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Probe Begins of Boat Accident; 20 Dead

Oct 3, 2005 | AP

The captain of a tour boat that capsized, killing 20 people, told authorities it was hit by waves from another vessel or vessels and went over as he tried to steer out of them, authorities said Monday.

The postcard perfect day of sailing on Lake George suddenly turned horrific Sunday when the 40-foot boat the Ethan Allen flipped over so quickly that none of the 47 passengers could put on a life jacket. Seven people were hospitalized.

All the passengers were from Michigan, Warren County Sheriff Larry Cleveland said Monday. Their names were not immediately disclosed. A hospital spokesman had earlier put the toll at 21, but Cleveland said it was 20.

"The boat was sideways in the water, and people were screaming," said Joanne Rahal, who was in a boat when the Ethan Allen flipped. "Bodies were floating by our boat."

"We were just cruising along, and all of a sudden, the boat tipped. We thought it was kind of like a joke," Ann Mae Hawley, 74, told the Glens Falls Post-Star. "Next thing I knew, I was in the water under the boat.

"I could see my husband, and I called to him, but he didn't respond. I don't know where he is now."

The sheriff said none of the passengers was able to put on a life jacket. "Some of the victims were in fact found still trapped in the boat by divers," he said.

The National Transportation Safety Board arrived on the scene early Monday.

There had been hundreds of boats on Lake George on the sunny Sunday afternoon, causing "a lot of wave action," Cleveland said.

Investigators had not tested Richard Paris, who is an experienced boat captain, for drug or alcohol use because there was no evidence of intoxication, the sheriff said. He said there didn't appear to be any criminal conduct. Paris was the sole crew member on board with the 47 passengers.

Many of the bodies were laid out along the shore Sunday, 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.

Adult boat passengers are not required to wear life jackets in New York, but boats must carry at least one life jacket per person.

The glass-enclosed 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 and the lake bustled with activity. The lake is approximately 32 miles long and nearly 3 miles wide.

Trenton, Mich., Mayor Gerald Brown, whose community is about 20 miles south of Detroit, said 14 of the passengers were part of a group, mostly from Trenton, that left Tuesday on a weeklong bus-and-rail trip to see changing fall colors along the East Coast.

Of the 14, three were killed, and 11 survived, 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."

The trip was arranged through Canadian-based Shoreline Tours, Brown said. Representatives of Shoreline could not immediately be reached for comment by The Associated Press.

A separate company, Shoreline Cruises, owns the boat. Jim Quirk, whose family has operated the company for decades, told the Glens Falls Post-Star: "It is a tragedy and it's very unfortunate."

Twenty-seven people were taken to a hospital in nearby Glens Falls. Some suffered broken ribs and others complained of shortness of breath. Seven survivors were admitted, hospital spokesman Jason White said.

Cleveland said there were 47 passengers and the captain onboard, close to the boat's maximum capacity of 50.

The boat was last inspected in May and no problems were found, according to Wendy Gibson, spokeswoman for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

At daybreak Monday, the lake's surface was glassy, with a buoy 100 yards offshore where the tour boat sunk in 70 feet of water. The yard where survivors and bodies were brought was still cordoned off with police tape and littered with water bottles and other debris.

"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."

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