Lake George boat investigation yields discoveries

10/06/05 12:00AM By Susan Keese
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(Host) The investigation into Sunday's fatal boat accident on lake George yielded new discoveries Wednesday.

Federal Experts say the Ethan Allen's sister ship failed a stability test with a weight far less than the 47 passengers on board when the accident occurred.

VPR's Susan Keese reports:

(Keese) Federal investigators loaded the Ethan Allen's twin sister ship, the de Champlain, with 55-gallon drums Wednesday. They moved the drums to the port side of the 38-foot tour boat and filled them with water, to estimate its actual carrying capacity.

Both boats are certified for 50 passengers. There were 47, plus the pilot on the Ethan Allen when it capsized.

Mark Rosenker is the acting chairman of the National Transportation safety Board. He says it would have taken eight drums to equal the combined weight of the passengers.

The test was stopped at three drums because the boat was listing dangerously.

(Rosenker) "We terminated the test because it was unsafe at that point in our opinion. She was becoming dangerously close to that line and we could see something that potentially we did not want to see at that pier."

(Keese) Rosenker says it's too early to draw conclusions about what caused the accident that killed twenty elderly tourists.

(Rosenker) "I can say that the test showed that it is not appropriately certified for 48 people."

(Keese) Rosenker said the boat had last been certified in 1969 and that modifications had been made since then. An awninged canopy had been converted to a Plexiglas and plywood enclosure.

According to current regulations re-certification would have been required only if the boat had been made longer or wider.

The regulations also use an average weight of 140 pounds per person to determine a boat's capacity. Last December, after a taxi boat accident in Baltimore, the National Transportation Safety board advocated raising the average weight to 174 pounds. The Coast Guard is still considering the recommendation.

Safety officials are readying the Ethan Allen itself for extensive tests on the Lake later this week. The data gathered will be used along with accounts from witnesses and survivors in computer modeling to determine what happened.

Rosenker says the process could take a month or longer.

The last of the 27 survivors of the accident and their families returned to Michigan Wednesday in a private plane.

But the town is still reeling from the accident.

(singing at memorial service)

More than 300 people turned out last night for a memorial service in a Lake George church.

Clergy from several area churches read the names of those who died and the names of the survivors. They prayed not only for the victims but for the first responders and the many local boaters who rushed to help when the accident occurred.

Father Bernard Turner said the events of last October 2nd changed the town forever.

(Bernard) "But what we can do is take a hard look at what we have been through. Learn something about ourselves from it both personally and as a community."

(Keese) And Bernard said the people of Lake George could take comfort in knowing their tradition of welcoming visitors had stood the test of tragedy.

(singing at memorial service)

For Vermont Public radio, I'm Susan Keese.
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