Saturday, 20 Apr 2024

One Dead After Boat Capsizes on Underground Cave Tour, Officials Say

One person was killed and more than a dozen had to be rescued after a tour boat capsized Monday morning while carrying passengers through an underground cavern in western New York, prompting an all-out rescue effort, officials said.

Twenty-nine people were on board when the boat tipped over at the Lockport Cave in Lockport, N.Y., about 20 miles east of Niagara Falls, Luca Quagliano, the city’s fire chief, said at a news conference. Emergency workers rescued 16 people from the water, the chief said; the rest were able to get to safety on their own.

No one on the boat was wearing a life jacket, Chief Quagliano said, adding that because the cave attraction is privately owned, he and other officials were still trying to determine whether such devices were required there.

The authorities identified the person who died as a 60-year-old man who got trapped underneath the boat when it capsized. His wife was also on the boat and was injured, said the chief, who did not provide other details about the victim.

Steven Abbott, Lockport’s police chief, said the cave was being treated as a crime scene. An inspector from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was among those involved in the investigation, a spokesman for the federal agency said.

“We have one individual who has passed, we have a lot of questions that need to be answered,” Chief Abbott said. “Whether or not that leads to charges in the future, I do not know, but as of right now we’re treating it as a crime scene.”

Among the lines of inquiry being explored, the chief said, were the inspection requirements for the boat and when it had last been inspected.

Eleven people were taken to hospitals with minor injuries, the worst appearing to be a broken arm, the chief said.

The police in Lockport said a report of a boat capsizing had come in at about 11:30 a.m. The city’s police and fire departments and other public safety agencies immediately began rescue efforts, officials said.

The boat, which can safety accommodate up to 40, became unbalanced at the end of its route, Chief Quagliano said. At that point, he said, everyone aboard — 28 passengers and one employee — was thrown into the water, which was about 60 degrees and exceeded six feet in depth in places.

The half-mile-long cave where the boat capsized is adjacent to the Erie Canal. A remnant of western New York’s industrial pasts, it was created in the 19th century as a spillway for the canal and opened as a tourist attraction in the 1970s.

Lockport’s mayor, Michelle Roman, said that as far as anyone could remember, the death there was the first since then.

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Near the Lockport Cave offices on Monday afternoon, firefighters, police and New York State Police formed a human wall around people who appeared to have been rescued from the boat, many of them wrapped in white towels. As ambulances idled nearby, some people from a tour group got back onto a bus, which eventually drove off.

Ashley Kandel of Victor, N.Y., was among the onlookers. She said that she and her husband, Tarek, had been scheduled to take the cave tour at 2 p.m. She said she had sensed that something might be wrong when they were on their way to the cave in the late morning.

The couple encountered a large number of fire trucks and noticed that streets in the area were blocked off, Ms. Kandel said. She called Lockport Caves to ask about the unusual traffic, but no one answered, she said.

“We were going to face our fear of being underground,” Ms. Kandel said, describing part of the couple’s motivation for taking the tour.

Ed Shanahan is a rewrite reporter and editor covering breaking news and general assignments on the Metro desk. @edkshanahan

Lola Fadulu is a general assignment reporter on the Metro desk of The Times. She was part of a team that was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2023 for coverage of New York City’s deadliest fire in decades.

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