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Probe Under Way in Fatal N.Y. Boating Accident


On New York's Lake George this afternoon, the tour boat that overturned yesterday was raised and towed to shore. Forty-seven elderly tourists were thrown into the water when the Ethan Allen capsized and sank; 20 people died in the accident. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann sent this report.

BRIAN MANN reporting:

On a gorgeous fall afternoon, the waters of Lake George lie flat calm as a flotilla of boats work to raise the Ethan Allen from the muddy bottom. Acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board Mark Rosenker says federal engineers will study the wreck to find out what went wrong.

Mr. MARK ROSENKER (Acting Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board): The vessel will be towed to a secure location where we will go through that vessel with a fine-toothed comb, I assure you.

MANN: In the hours after the accident, officials said the wake from a larger tour boat might have swamped the Ethan Allen. Suspicion focused on a vessel called the Mohican. Federal officials now say they're not sure what caused the wave, and the owner of the Mohican, Bill Dow, said his vessel was miles away.

Mr. BILL DOW (Mohican's Owner): Absolutely not. The Mohican was not involved. The Mohican was nowhere near the thing.

MANN: What is clear is that the Ethan Allen pitched suddenly around 3 PM. New York State Police Superintendent Wayne Bennett says at least some of the 47 elderly passengers slid to one side.

Superintendent WAYNE BENNETT (New York State Police): They were either thrown or slid to that side of the boat, which, of course, shifted even more weight, which would obviously play some kind of a role in what course of action the boat was going to take.

MANN: Jeane Siler, a 76-year-old woman from Trenton, Michigan, was one of the passengers thrown over the side.

Ms. JEANE SILER (Ethan Allen Passenger): All of my friends around me, some of them not being able to swim, were fumbling about. Some of them were screaming. And those that could were trying to hang on to the side of the boat.

MANN: Siler spent 15 minutes in the frigid water. She was rescued along with 27 other people. NTSB officials say they will investigate whether the Ethan Allen had adequate seating. Some witnesses say chairs shifted before the boat capsized. Acting Commissioner Mark Rosenker says questions have also been raised about the fact that only one crew member was aboard the vessel, piloting the boat and caring for dozens of passengers.

Mr. ROSENKER: We'll be looking at that, as well. Perhaps there are some additional issues that we need to look at for additional crew.

MANN: Lake George is a small community, and its mariners know one another well. Warren County Sheriff Larry Cleveland says the pilot of the boat, Dick Paris, who survived the accident, is experienced and competent.

Sheriff LARRY CLEVELAND (Warren County): We all know him, and we know him when we see him. He's known to be a friendly, gregarious person. He's always helpful. And in this case, I gotta say he's always been safe. Yesterday, he was destroyed. It really hit him hard. He is having a really difficult time of it, and we're trying to help him get through that, as well.

MANN: New York state has temporarily revoked Paris' license and also the operating permit for Shoreline Cruises, the company that owns the Ethan Allen. Company officials declined to comment. Sheriff Cleveland says he doesn't expect to file any criminal charges.

Sheriff CLEVELAND: We handle this as a criminal matter as a normal course of business, not something to alarm you, and we will continue to do so until we have ruled every potential avenue out. As I speak to you now, I do not believe that there is any criminal culpability involved in any of the parties that we have spoken to.

MANN: Officials say they'll release the names of the dead once they've notified families. All the victims came from Michigan and were visiting Lake George as part of a tour to see the fall color. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in northern New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.
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