Three people were killed and a 14-year-old girl was missing after a Sydney Harbour ferry smashed into a boat carrying leading members of Australia's ice skating community.
Two international-level skating judges were among the dead and a former Olympian had her leg amputated after the ferry ploughed into a motor cruiser beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge late on Wednesday.
Promising teenage skater Morgan Innes was still missing yesterday, despite an intensive search by police helicopters, divers and patrol boats.
Authorities said the 10m wooden pleasure craft broke apart when the catamaran hit it late on Wednesday -- the second fatal accident this year involving the ferries that carry thousands of commuters and tourists daily.
"It was a catastrophic impact because this wooden cruiser appears to have just disintegrated and the people were flung into the water," Sydney Ferries chief Geoff Smith told reporters.
Two ferries, a police vessel and a naval patrol boat arrived on the scene almost immediately and helped pluck survivors from the water.
Clive Marshall, a passenger on one of the ferries helping in the rescue,said it was a chaotic scene.
"There were people in the water. There was a lot of wreckage, lots of shouting, mayhem, terrible sight," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.
Australian Professional Skaters Association president Judy Bosler said the party of 12 were unwinding on the harbor after a skating clinic and the country's close-knit skating community was devastated.
"It's an absolute tragedy for us because it's a small community and we're all reliant on each other," she said.
Bosler confirmed international-level judges Alan Blinn and Simone Moore were killed, along with an unidentified second man. Former Olympic figure skater Liz Cain lost a leg in the accident.
The accident was the 14th since 2004 involving the 28 state-owned ferries that ply Sydney Harbour. The ferries carry more than 13 million passengers a year.
In January, another catamaran ferry ran into a small fishing boat. A fisherman injured in the crash died in hospital eight days later.
Smith admitted there were question marks over the ferry service's safety record but insisted it was improving.
"The record was poor but it's got much better through a sustained effort," he said.
"I don't accept that we have a worsening safety record, what we have is one that is improving," he said.