21 die after tour boat capsizes in New York lake
Craft carrying 49 on seniors' cruise flips when another boat passes nearby
The Associated Press
Updated: 1:18 a.m. ET Oct. 3, 2005
LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. - A seemingly ideal day of sailing along a calm but busy mountain lake turned abruptly tragic Sunday when a tour boat carrying a group of senior citizens overturned, killing 21 people and injuring dozens more.
The glass-enclosed Ethan Allen was carrying tourists from Michigan on a fall foliage tour when it capsized shortly before 3 p.m. The accident on Lake George may have occurred when the boat was hit by the wake of a larger vessel, Warren County Sheriff Larry Cleveland said.
“We haven’t ruled anything out yet,” Cleveland said.
The 40-foot boat was carrying a tour group from the Trenton, Mich., area, and was sailing just north of the village of Lake George, a popular tourist destination about 50 miles north of Albany in the Adirondack Mountains. With calm waters, clear skies and temperatures in the 70s, it seemed perfect boating weather.
No time to deploy life jackets
U.S. Rep. John Sweeney, who talked with survivors at the hospital, said the boat flipped in about 30 seconds, giving victims no time to react. The sheriff said none of the passengers was able to put on a life jacket.
Adult boat passengers are not required to wear life jackets in New York, but boats must carry at least one life jacket per person.
Patrol boats that reached the scene within minutes found other boaters already pulling people from the water. All passengers had been accounted for within two hours.
Twenty-seven people were taken to a hospital in nearby Glens Falls. Some suffered broken ribs and others complained of shortness of breath. Five survivors were to be admitted, hospital spokesman Jason White said.
He said the hospital had received 21 bodies.
Police investigators were at the hospital late Sunday to question survivors.
Dorothy Warren, a resident who said she brought blankets and chairs to shore for survivors, said one passenger told her “she saw a big boat coming close and she said, ’Whoop-dee-doo. I love a rocking boat.”’
Warren said the woman did not know how she got out of the water but said her mother was killed.
Number of passengers unclear
Officials gave conflicting information on the number of dead and passengers. Cleveland said there were 48 or 49 people aboard, which was close to the boat’s maximum capacity of 50.
Investigators were interviewing survivors to get an accurate count. The National Transportation Safety Board was expected at the lake Monday, the sheriff said.
Police said the boat pilot was interviewed. The New York Times reported that investigators had not tested Richard Paris for drug or alcohol use because there was no evidence of intoxication.
Cleveland said Paris was well known and well liked by law enforcement officials.
The boat was last inspected in May 2005 and no problems were found, according to Wendy Gibson, spokeswoman for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Trenton, Mich., Mayor Gerald Brown, whose community is about 20 miles south of Detroit, said the group left Tuesday on a weeklong bus-and-rail trip to see changing fall colors along the East Coast.
The trip was organized through the city’s parks and recreation department and arranged through Canadian-based Shoreline Tours, Brown said.
“It’s a sad time in our community. We’re a small community, and we handle things differently in small communities,” Brown said. “We know names. We know faces. We have relatives. It’s all intertwined. It’s a sad day for us.”
Tranquility repleced by somber, surreal scene
Many of the bodies were laid out along the shore, and the site was blocked off by police with tarps. A hearse, police vehicles and several sport utility vehicles later began taking the dead from the scene.
The weather did not appear to be a factor on the lake, a long, narrow body of water that is a popular tourist destination in the summer and quiets down after Labor Day. The water temperature was 68 degrees.
“This was as calm as it gets,” said Jerry Thornell, a former Lake George Park Commission patrol officer and a lake enforcement officer for the county sheriff’s department.
Late Sunday, a tour bus pulled up on the darkened north side of the Glens Falls Hospital, away from reporters. About 10 people, mostly older women wrapped in blankets, walked out of the hospital and boarded the bus.
At the Georgian Hotel in Lake George, where some boat passengers had been staying, a police cruiser and other emergency personnel kept the media away.
Boat at the bottom of the lake
Representatives of Shoreline Cruises, which operated the boat, could not immediately be reached for comment by The Associated Press.
The boat’s owner, Jim Quirk, whose family has operated Shoreline Cruises for decades, told the Glens Falls Post-Star: “It is a tragedy and it’s very unfortunate.”
As dusk fell, several police boats were on the water, and at least half a dozen divers were in a small cove on the west side of the lake. The Ethan Allen lay at the bottom of the lake in 70 feet of water.
“It should have been a day of enjoyment,” said state police Superintendent Wayne Bennett, who was out boating on the lake earlier Sunday. “Instead, it was one of sadness.”