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21 Killed as Boat Overturns on Lake in New York State

The vessel carrying seniors sinks quickly after it is swamped by a larger craft's wake, witnesses say.

October 03, 2005|Paul Lieberman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Twenty-one senior citizens on a boat tour on Lake George in Upstate New York were killed and more than two dozen others were injured Sunday when the boat capsized and sank, Warren County authorities said.

The wake from a larger passing tour boat apparently swamped and flipped the Ethan Allen at about 3 p.m. EDT as the smaller glass-enclosed tour boat was turning, according to witnesses in the village of Lake George.

Warren County Sheriff Larry J. Cleveland said 49 people had set out on the Ethan Allen, a 40-foot Shoreline Cruises boat, for an hourlong tour of the lake on the crisp, calm afternoon. "Of those 49 people, we do know that 21 people have perished," Cleveland said. "We will of course conduct an investigation into this."

It was unclear whether the 49 included the captain, who witnesses said survived.

Ten or more ambulances lined up to help the injured as authorities set up a morgue at a campground. Survivors brought ashore on rescue boats and nearby pleasure craft sat shivering on Adirondack chairs. Volunteers draped coats and blankets over their shoulders while the survivors awaited transportation to Glens Falls Hospital.

The hospital, about six miles south of the lake, said in a statement that it had treated 27 passengers and expected to keep seven overnight. Some were short of breath or had broken ribs. The hospital called in all emergency personnel when word of the accident came at 3:26 p.m.

Motel owner Frank Sause, 53, said he and other locals helped survivors from rescue craft onto a dock as 30 boats patrolled the waters where the Ethan Allen sank. "Some were complaining of chest pains. All were in shock."

One man "turned around and said: 'They just took my wife. She's dead.' I told him: 'Don't jump to conclusions,' " Sause said.

Some passengers said the Ethan Allen had been turning when a second boat passed, according to Sause, "and with the wake of that, combined with the turning, it kind of rolled over."

"It went down quickly," Sause said.

The Sheriff's Department said the victims were part of a group visiting from the Trenton, Mich.,area during one of the last busy weekends of the tourist season. Lake George is in the Adirondack Mountains about 50 miles north of Albany.

Sause said some survivors mentioned staying at the Georgian Resort Hotel and Conference Center in Lake George.

It had not been determined what boat caused the wake that witnesses described. One operating at the time was a Lake George Steamboat Co. paddle-wheeler named the Mohican, which has conducted lake tours for 98 years. Its schedule lists a cruise of two hours and 15 minutes starting at 2:30 p.m. during the fall.

Heather Gilchrist, whose family has operated a marina nearby for 50 years, said her son went by boat to the scene to help but arrived just as the Ethan Allen was going under. "People were jumping in and pulling people in as best they could, but it's 70 feet of water," she said.

Though life vests are routinely provided, passengers are not required to wear them on boats longer than 26 feet, Gilchrist said. "If the boat went sideways and down and you're behind the glass, you would have a hard time getting out," she said. "It went down like the Titanic."

She said there had been no such problems in the past with the tour ships, which often pass close to each other but follow carefully plotted routes and schedules. "They have been doing this forever," Gilchrist said.

"There are probably 40,000 people on the lake at times in the summer," she said. "Nothing like this has happened."

Boaters at the Gilchrist Marina had commented earlier Sunday that conditions on the lake were smooth, she said.

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