The captain of the tour boat that capsized Sunday, killing 20 elderly tourists on a fall foliage tour, said the 47 passengers aboard that day was a bigger group than most of the tour bus trips he piloted.
Richard Paris, 74, told The Associated Press on Friday he was used to seeing tour buses with 30-35 people disembark at the Lake George pier before piling aboard the Ethan Allen.
He was at the wheel Sunday when the Ethan Allen flipped, spilling its passengers and Paris into the calm, 68-degree waters of this Adirondack lake. He initially told investigators he was trying to steer out of the wake of another boat.
Paris wouldn’t discuss specifics of the accident but said: “They’ve had a pretty good description of the accident in the paper.”
Federal investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are looking at whether the boat was unstable or shouldn’t have been certified to carry up to 50 people. They also are studying traffic on the lake that day and human factors.
A Wednesday test found the Ethan Allen unsuited to handle the weight of the 48 adults who were aboard, said Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the NTSB. He would not say how many passengers the boat could have safely held.
During the test of the Ethan Allen’s sister vessel, the de Champlain, investigators placed three 55-gallon barrels at the boat’s edge, then filled them with water, at which point the boat became unstable. The combined weight of the barrels was just over 1,400 pounds, or the equivalent of 10 adults as defined by Coast Guard weight standards.
“We terminated the test because it was unsafe at that point,” Rosenker said.
Wednesday’s test was the first step toward recreating conditions on this Adirondack lake that might have caused the Ethan Allen to capsize.
NTSB officials believe the weight and distribution of the 47 passengers in the boat may have contributed to the accident. Both the Ethan Allen and the de Champlain are owned by Shoreline Cruises.
NTSB investigators continued to examine the Ethan Allen, which was hauled from the lake Monday, and may put it back in the water for tests.
The Ethan Allen was just shy of its 50-person capacity when it overturned, but that limit was based on a decades-old standard that assumes an average weight of 140 pounds for everyone on board.
Late Wednesday, Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., urged the Coast Guard to speed up its review process for changing the outdated weight calculations.
Sweeney’s letter to the Coast Guard came after The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the Coast Guard awarded a contract just days before the Lake George accident to study the effect of raising the average weight estimate. The Coast Guard also acknowledged it had been concerned about the issue since last year.