Lake George tour boat being refloated

10/03/05 12:00AM By Susan Keese
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(Host) The tour boat that capsized on Lake George in New York is being "refloated" Monday afternoon.

The incident on Sunday killed twenty elderly passengers.

The boat's American flag was the first thing that broke the surface at 4:30, followed by the canopy. The boat was brought to the surface by inflated bags that were attached to it underwater.

When the boat is completely surfaced, it will be pumped out and brought to a secure area for inspection. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the fatal incident.

The tour boat's captain, Richard Paris, told authorities his boat was hit by waves from at least one other vessel and capsized as he tried to steer out of them.

Paris's license has been temporarily suspended during the investigation.

The Warren County, New York, sheriff says so far, he doesn't see the captain as criminally culpable.

The forty-seven senior citizens were part of a tour group when the boat they were on overturned Sunday afternoon on Lake George.

Nearby boaters helped rescue 27 passengers from the chilly water.

VPR's Susan Keese spoke with one of the survivors.

(Keese) 76-year-old Jeane Siler had been working with the Red Cross in Louisiana, helping to set up a shelter for hurricane victims.

She joined a fall foliage tour with friends from Trenton Michigan, to help relieve the stress of working in a disaster zone.

The boat tour on Lake George was part of the trip. Siler says she was talking with her friends, delighted to be on the water on a beautiful fall day. She noticed the boat turning, as if into a wake left by another watercraft. She says she didn't notice another big boat around.

The next thing she knew she was in the water.

She describes what she saw:

(Siler) "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."

(Keese) Almost immediately Siler says, boaters on the lake rallied to help.

(Siler) "There was a lady who pulled me from the water. She tossed a life preserver to me, and I was able to get one arm, but couldn't get the other arm in there. And then she threw a second rope, which I caught, and pulled myself to the boat. And then she asked me to hang on while she assisted another man who was probably in worse straits than I was. She took in about six people by herself. And it was just amazing."

(Keese) Frank Sause owns a motel overlooking the lake at the point where the tour boat capsized.

He was returning from a church function when he saw the emergency vehicles lined up on the street. About 20 or 30 boats were in the water, he said.

He and his 13-year-old daughter were among those who went down to help unload the people who were being ferried to the dock. He didn't realize how serious the situation was at first.

(Sause) "There was quite a few local boats out there - maybe 20 or 30 maybe 40 boats out on the water, all elderly people in shock - all of them. And one was complaining of chest pains when she got off. Another guy looked over his shoulder and said That was my wife. My wife is dead.' And I said Don't jump to any conclusions.' Then I looked after a couple more boats came in, I helped them out. I looked all on the shore and I saw all the bodies lying along the shore there. There was probably 15, 20 bodies. They were all covered with sheets. That's when it really hit me, you know. Sent shivers up and down my spine."

(Keese) Officials say it will be a few days at least before they piece together what happened.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross is working with survivors and the families of those who died.

Eight people remain hospitalized at Glens Falls Hospital, including Jeane Siler. She has some broken vertebrae a few bumps and a broken finger.

Siler says she'll never forget the kindness of the Lake George community.

(Siler) "For the people of this community who have treated us like royalty, who have given so much of themselves, who pulled us out of the water and have taken care of us, I will never ever forget you. Believe me I will never forget you."

(Keese) For Vermont Public Radio, I'm Susan Keese
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