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Tour Boat Overturns on Lake George, Killing 20

Oct 3, 2005 | Newsday

A perfect boating day upstate on Lake George turned into a disaster scene yesterday when a tour boat carrying about 47 senior citizens capsized, killing 20 people, officials said.

Another 7 passengers were hospitalized after the incident, which happened about 3 p.m. on a calm, sunny afternoon.

The 40-foot glass-enclosed Ethan Allen was chartered for a group tour that included 14 members of a senior activities group from Trenton, Mich., called the "Trenton Travellers." The other passengers were believed to be from surrounding communities. Police said some may have had wheelchairs and walkers.

Police are still investigating the deadly accident, but witnesses said they saw a wave from a larger steam boat hit the Ethan Allen. Officials said that had yet to be confirmed. The captain of the ship, Richard Paris, was being interviewed last night at the boat's base in the village of Lake George, a tourist town 50 miles north of Albany.

Officials are treating the incident, which happened off of Cramer Point, about two miles north of the village, as a criminal investigation until it is ruled otherwise, Warren County Sheriff Larry Cleveland said last night.

The accident apparently happened so fast that none of the passengers was able to put on a life jacket, Cleveland said. Some were trapped within the boat, but most were cast into the water, police said.

The lake, a popular tourist destination, is busy with boaters through Columbus Day, especially on the weekends.

Nearby residents and other boaters helped police and rescue workers pull people out of the water, and by 5 p.m. all were accounted for. Bodies were laid along the shore and the area was blocked by police with tarps.

Dorothy Warren, 73, who lives across a small road from the lake, said she brought blankets, towels, water and chairs to the shocked seniors.

"One woman had lost her mother who she had taken on this cruise to celebrate her 80th birthday," Warren said last night. "She said, 'My mother's dead. They haven't found her.'"

Officials at Glens Falls Hospital said of the 27 patients treated there, seven were expected to be admitted and most of the rest were to be released last night. Most patients were cold and wet, with some reporting shortness of breath and chest pains and a handful receiving treatment for broken ribs.

Representatives of Shoreline Cruises, which operates the boat, could not be reached for comment. The boat's owner, Jim Quirk, told the Glens Falls Post Star: He said, "Nothing of this magnitude has ever happened."

In the close-knit city of Trenton, Mich., news of the accident was spreading yesterday evening, said Mayor Jerry Brown. Initial reports indicated that three of the Trenton Travellers group were killed, six were known to have survived, and five were unaccounted for as of 10 p.m. yesterday, Brown said.

The southern Detroit suburb is an aging community of 20,000 in America's depressed auto and steel manufacturing belt.

"For young people, the jobs aren't here like they used to be, so taking care of seniors is an important part of what we do here in Trenton," said Mayor Pro-Tem Terrence Teifer. The Trenton Travellers, who meet at at city senior center and take annual trips around the country, were on a one-week foliage tour.

One of those missing is a neighbor of Brown's, he said, and two are family friends of Teifer's. "We have a small community," Brown said. "We have more ties to everyone."

In Lake George, where the Ethan Allen was under 70 feet of water, divers continued to search the lake as dusk fell yesterday, and officials estimated it will take two or three days to find out what caused the capsize.

National Transportation Security Board officials were expected to arrive at the scene today for a maritime investigation.

There were few other topics of discussion at the Prospect Mountain Diner in Lake George yesterday.

"Everyone feels bad about it," said staffer Rose Ajimine. She hoped the accident wouldn't discourage tourists. She said, "We rely on the tourist business up here."

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