NTSB tour boat accident findings analyzed

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Host) This week the National Transportation Safety Board issued its findings on the probable cause of last fall’s tour boat tragedy on Lake George.

20 elderly sightseers lost their lives in the accident.

The long-awaited NTSB findings are being analyzed from different points of view as VPR’s Susan Keese reports.

(Keese) Jim Quirk insisted from the beginning that the wake from a bigger tour boat caused the Ethan Allen to capsize last October.

Quirk owns Shoreline Cruises, the company that operated the Ethan Allen.

But now, The National Transportation Safety Board says interviews and photos show the Mohican passed the Ethan Allen 10 minutes before it capsized and was two miles away at the time of the accident.

Quirk has seen the evidence too and says he still has questions.

(Quirk) “And I was surprised that they did not track the path of that boat. It was not 10 minutes.”

(Keese) The Mohican’s owners have said all along that their wake was not a factor.

The NTSB determined that the Ethan Allen capsized because of overcrowding and inherent instability. That instability caused the boat to roll and eventually to flip, as the operator made a sharp turn into a passing wave or waves’ on an otherwise calm day.

The report faulted various state and federal agencies and individuals for not having the boat re-tested for passenger capacity. The boat was certified for 50 passengers by the coast guard in the 1960’s.

But it was never recertified after structural changes that made it less stable and should have put the passenger limit closer to 10 or 11.

With 48 passengers, The Ethan Allen was technically within its legal load limit when the tragedy occurred.

But James Hacker says that’s not enough. Hacker is one of several lawyers representing victims’ families and survivors.

(Hacker) “Just because the little sign on the side says 48 passenger capacity doesn’t mean you can load 48 people on it and watch the boat sink down so low that various witness statements say it looked just a few inches out of the water, it was tilted to the side… a reasonable person would not have let the boat go out that day.”

(Keese) Quirk says the boat went out for 27 years, often with a full load. He says he had no reason to question its capacity.

(Quirk) “I don’t believe there’s anyone, and I mean even naval architects that can look at a boat and say, hey, that boat’s unstable.’ There was no reason for me to question it.”

(Keese) Hacker’s suits target the Mohican as well as the Ethan Allen’s owners and pilot. But he says there’s little point in going after the Mohican after this week’s report.

(Hacker) “It’s definitely narrowed things down.”

(Keese) Hacker says he will pursue the case against Scarano Boats. The Albany company made the last set of changes to the Ethan Allen, replacing a metal framed awning with a wooden canopy.

A spokesman for Scarano says those alterations made the Ethan Allen more stable than it was with the metal frame. So the company saw no reason to doubt the existing coast guard certificate.

New York State Officials say that changes have been made, and that Legislation is pending, to prevent similar oversights in the future.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m, Susan Keese.

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