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Safety Issues Probed After Boat Tragedy

October 05, 2005|From Newsday

LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. — Officials investigating the deadly capsizing of a tour boat said Tuesday they would begin a series of tests today to determine if modifications to the 39-year-old vessel doomed it. "It's a very scientific road test of the vehicle," said Mark Rosenker, acting head of the National Transportation Safety Board.

In 1997, the boat's owners altered the canopy from canvas and vinyl to wood and fiberglass, Rosenker said, and three years later installed a larger engine.

In the aftermath of Sunday's accident, which claimed the lives of 20 people, Rosenker said the NTSB also was studying whether to increase the average per-passenger weight used with older vessels to calculate how many to allow aboard. When the Ethan Allen was built in 1966, the formula was based on an average weight of 140 pounds.

"Clearly, people are a bit heavier today," Rosenker said.

He added that the agency also would put a boat that is a virtual twin of the Ethan Allen through tests that would reveal more about the boat's ability to balance its weight when it carried 47 mostly elderly passengers and Capt. Richard Paris, 74, on Sunday.

Rosenker said the NTSB also planned to thoroughly investigate Paris' activities in the three days before the incident, including for drug or alcohol use. Police did not take blood tests or check his blood-alcohol level after the accident because he showed no signs of impairment, they said.

On Tuesday, New York State Police Maj. Gerald Mayor said operator Shoreline Cruises could be fined because Paris was the only crewman on the ship, violating state law that requires two members for boats carrying more than 21 passengers. Because of that, the state parks agency suspended Paris' and Shoreline's licenses Monday.

Robert Blais, the mayor of Lake George for 36 years, said he has been a passenger on many Shoreline boats. "I have never seen a second crew member on these little boats," he said.

The Warren County sheriff released tapes of 911 calls from witnesses. During one, a frantic woman said, "They're hanging onto the bottom where it went over. Oh, please hurry!"

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