An upstate New York tour boat that capsized last fall, killing 20 passengers - including six from the Toledo area - had more than three times as many people aboard as it could safely carry, the National Transportation Safety Board reported yesterday.
The agency declared the vessel's instability to be a primary factor in the accident.
While it was certified by the state of New York to carry 50 people, engineering analysis done after the tour boat Ethan Allen capsized on Lake George indicated that the 40-foot vessel was stable enough only to have 14 on board, the NTSB said in a report summary issued after a meeting in Washington yesterday.
Forty-seven passengers and a captain were aboard the Ethan Allen when it flipped in calm water on Oct. 2.
"The combination of too many passengers, as permitted by the Ethan Allen's inappropriate certificate of inspection, and the use of an out-of-date average weight standard for passengers on public vessels resulted in the Ethan Allen carrying a load that significantly reduced its stability," the safety board said.
"That doesn't surprise me. It's what we said from the beginning," said Terri O'Connor, of Bedford Township, whose mother, JoAnn Manore, 74, was one of 20 people killed in the accident.
Others from the Toledo area who died were Bev Becker, 78; Viola "Vi" Urbaniak, 89; Virginia Ciesinski, 82, and Joyce Rochowiak, 69, all of Bedford Township, and Wilma LeJeune, 78, of West Toledo. They and Mrs. Manore were members of the Bedford Senior Center who, along with others on board from the Detroit area, were on a group fall-color tour.
Officials said the boat was certified to carry up to 50 people based on obsolete passenger-weight guidelines that assumed an average passenger weighed 140 pounds instead of the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate of 177.7 pounds for a typical adult.
The Ethan Allen, built in 1964, also had gained weight as it aged. It was modified with a heavier canopy, a larger engine, and more ballast. The extra weight made the vessel less stable, the NTSB said, but no stability assessment was performed after it was modified because, by law, no such assessment was required.
"This tragic accident highlights the need for clear requirements to verify a vessel's stability after any modifications are made to the vessel," said Mark V. Rosenker, the safety board's acting chairman.
According to the report, vessel Capt. Richard Paris' attempt to turn the Ethan Allen sharply to maneuver it through wakes from another boat "was a normal reaction to the circumstances, but not timely enough to be effective." The combination of the wakes and the sharp turn caused the Ethan Allen to begin to roll, in turn causing an "involuntary shift" among the passengers that worsened the situation, the safety board said.
The safety board report discounted comments by at least one passenger indicating a belief that the Ethan Allen had excessive water in its bilge.
"The bilge might have contained, at most, an insignificant amount of water which would not have affected the Ethan Allen's stability," the NTSB wrote.
The safety board said emergency response to the accident "was timely and effective" and that New York state officials' actions since then "to improve the level of safety of public vessels were prompt and, if implemented, will address issues identified in the accident investigation."
"Somebody was in the wrong, but it was an accident. It was a tragic accident," Ms. O'Connor agreed. "Hopefully, by this happening to us, it won't happen again."
"If this investigation can shine light on practices and procedures everyone uses in this [tour boat] industry so everything can be made safer, then maybe somebody else won't have to go through this," said Sharon Throm, who as director of community education for the Bedford Public Schools has oversight over the Bedford Senior Center.
A New York investigation found no criminal wrongdoing associated with the accident, but numerous wrongful-death lawsuits filed in New York and Michigan by relatives of those who died remain to work their way through the courts.
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