Ethan Allen boating accident
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The Ethan Allen was a 40-foot, glass-enclosed tour boat operated by Shoreline Cruises on Lake George in upstate New York. On October 2, 2005, at 2:55 p.m., with 47 passengers—all from Michigan and Ohio and mostly seniors—aboard, the Ethan Allen capsized and sank just south of Cramer Point in the Town of Lake George. Twenty passengers died. The accident caused government regulators to consider new laws on passenger boat capacity.
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The boat was carrying a tourist group, the Trenton Travelers, based out of Trenton, Michigan. The group included senior citizens from Michigan and Ohio. They were on a hour-long fall foliage tour on the lake. When the boat capsized it sent about 47 passengers and crew, including the captain into the water. The boat sank in water about 70 feet deep, and witnesses told officials that passengers had not been wearing life preservers. There were multiple attempts to save individuals on the boat with people passing on boats, or who had swum from shore tossing them life preservers or pulling them out of the water.
Three passengers were treated for major injuries at local hospitals and six passengers were treated for minor injuries. The 20 deceased victims are believed to have died from drowning, not hypothermia, as the water in the lake was 68 °F (20 °C).
Injured passengers and crew were sent to Glens Falls Hospital by ambulances from Lake George and the nearby towns of Hague, Warrensburg, and Moreau. North Warren EMS, which incorporates the towns of Horicon and Chester, assisted in the effort. The Water Rescue Teams, a part of the Horicon VFD, North Queensbury VFC, and Lake George VFD were also called to the scene. Officials of Warren County set up a makeshift morgue on the law by the lake, while locals helped survivors. One local recounted an interaction with one survivor stating the individual looked over the locals shoulder and said; "That's my wife. She's dead.".
Speculation about the cause of the capsizing originally centered on the sizable wake of a much larger cruise ship, the Lake George Steamboat Company's Mohican, which traverses Lake George daily. However, no evidence emerged to support this theory. Tourists at a nearby camp reported that the Mohican did not pass the area of the lake where the Ethan Allen sank until 20 minutes later.
There were multiple reports by people near and around the lake of several other boats being in the vicinity. Reports from some people at local campsites claim that a speed boat had passed by, while others claim the lake was calm. Warren County Police did not confirm whether there were other boats around the Ethan Allen. Weather was also not a factor in this accident, as the skies were clear and the wind calm.
On October 3, the Ethan Allen was raised by investigators and taken to the Warren County Airport. By Friday, October 7, two of the survivors who returned to Michigan filed lawsuits for damages of $70,000 each. The following week, the Ethan Allen was returned to Lake George for a series of tests to determine what caused it to capsize. According to WRGB, the Mohican was used during tests on three consecutive days. On October 15 it was confirmed that the Ethan Allen was making a sharp turn and that weight was a factor for the capsizing. There was a rumor that the glass windows on the boat had acted like a box, trapping the passengers inside. However, it was later established by the NTSB that there were no glass windows; they were made of acrylic glass and fitted in a swing-up frame. The frame attaches to the overhead. At the time of the accident they were swung up and out of the way. They remained in that position even with the boat sinking and were still up when the boat was recovered. Further reports showed that with the canopy installed the capacity rating of the boat was 14 people. There were 47 people on the boat the day of the incident.
On November 4, the alcohol results from the toxicology center showed that the captain of the Ethan Allen did not drink alcohol on the day of the accident.
On February 5, 2007, a grand jury indicted Richard Paris, the boat's captain, and Shoreline Cruises on misdemeanor charges of criminal negligence. Paris faced a maximum $250 fine and/or 15 days in jail if found guilty. The grand jury, which met for two months, also issued a report proposing new laws to prevent a repeat of the disaster. This was the third report about the capsizing.  In March 2007, Paris pleaded guilty and received a fine of $250 and 200 hours of community service.
Official police report
On February 3, 2006, the official police report for the Ethan Allen accident was released after a three-month delay. The report is 530 pages in three volumes, with all the information about the Ethan Allen. There are 84 pages written by survivors and 101 pages about police discussion. There has been much discussion over whether or not the Mohican did or did not pass the Ethan Allen, causing it to capsize. People around and on the lake at the time claim the Mohican had passed 20 minutes after the Ethan Allen had capsized. The pilot of the Ethan Allen, Richard Paris, stated:
I started to swing the bow of the boat to the right and immediately encountered stray waves from the wake of the Mohican that was going northbound. The entire boat then tipped to the left and just kept right on going.
Regardless of the actions or locations of other craft, the report concluded that the Ethan Allen incident was not a crime.
On July 25, 2006, the final report for the Ethan Allen boating accident was released by The National Transportation Safety Board. It established that Ethan Allen had capsized as a result of insufficient stability. The US Coast Guard was responsible for the original certification of the vessel, then called the Double Dolphin. It was thought that the original certification of 48 was allowed due to different test standards applied in 1966; passenger weight difference was not responsible for those differences.
When the owner of the Double Dolphin fitted the boat with an elaborate pipe structure and canvas top, the center of gravity was raised and, more importantly, the projected side area vastly increased. The boat continued to be inspected and certified by the USCG for 48 persons, although they should have performed another test. According to the NTSB Naval Architect, Rob Henry, if that test had been performed, the boat would not have been certified to carry any passengers due to insufficient stability to the load of the wind heel.
In the mid-1970s the boat along with two other sister vessels was sold after a company insolvency to Shoreline Cruises in Lake George. The US Coast Guard certificates were at that point still current and valid. New York State vessel regulators were given those certificates and, based on the US Coast Guard officially stating (incorrectly) that the boat had sufficient reserve stability to safely carry 48 passengers and 2 crew, New York regulators then gave the boat the same rating. In 1989, when the owner had a hard (wood and fiberglass) top installed to replace the pipe structure canopy, it was determined that its lower height more than compensated for its slightly greater weight, and vessel stability was increased to the point that passenger loading would have gone from 0 with the former top to 14 passengers. Because of the increase of stability, state regulators did not require a new stability test of the vessel, and the rating continued at 50 (48 passengers and 2 crew members).
According to the NTSB, the capsizing occurred due to a series of events. The total load of 47 was over three times greater than the 14 passengers it was capable of carrying, the pilot made a hard turn to the right at speed, the seating arrangement put three people on the left versus two on the right (giving a permanent two-degree list to port), and the bench seats had no way of stopping involuntary sliding, so the centrifugal force of the hard turn caused involuntary movement of the passengers to the port. That movement increased the list to port and the increased list caused more sliding. Within seconds the center of gravity was no longer over the hull and the boat rolled over.
A lawsuit was brought by the victims and their families in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York against Shoreline Cruises; its affiliate Quirks Marine Rentals; boat captain Richard Paris; Scarano Boat Building Inc., which modified the Ethan Allen; Shoreline Travel & Tours Inc., a Canadian firm that organized the leaf-peeping tour; and the Lake George Steamboat Company, operator of the Mohican. On June 25, 2008, it was announced that Shoreline Cruises, Quirks, and Paris settled with the plaintiffs for undisclosed terms. In September 2008 a trial date for April 13, 2010 for the remaining defendants was announced. The portion of the suit against Scarano was dismissed because of a lack of evidence.
It came to light that Shoreline Cruises had been sold a fraudulent liability insurance policy. Shoreline paid premiums for a $2 million policy for about two years before the Ethan Allen capsized. Two weeks after the incident, they were told the policy did not exist.
The last lawsuit, in which the state of New York was named as a defendant because state boat inspectors were alleged to have been negligent, was dismissed by the state’s highest court in November 2012. The Court of Appeals found the state had “governmental immunity.”
On February 1, 2006, a service to community ceremony was held at the Glens Falls Civic Center to recognize the people, including paid professionals, volunteers, and citizens, who helped during the accident. The names of the 20 people who died that day were read. An estimated 600 people attended the ceremony. Lake George Village Mayor Robert M. Blais said that plans were in the works for a memorial to recognize the victims and the survivors sometime around the one-year anniversary of the accident, October 2, 2006. The monument is in place on the shore near Lower Amherst Street.
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