1 dead after tour boat capsizes in the Lockport Caves
One person has died and several have suffered minor injuries after a tour boat capsized in the Lockport Caves in Lockport, Niagara County.
The victim is a male estimated to be around 60 years old, who has not yet been named.
Eleven people have been taken to hospital with minor injuries.
Lockport Emergency Services received a call at approximately 11.30a.m. saying there were 28 people trapped in the water at the Lockport Caves after a boat had capsized during the Lockport Cave and Underground Boat Ride tour.
The incident happened during a section of the tour where the cave narrows to a corridor approximately 300ft in length. Visitors view this section of the cave from a small boat which can safely handle up to 40 people, according to Lockport Fire Chief Luca Quagliano.
Twenty-eight people were on the boat when it capsized, throwing all on board into the water.
Quagliano said that some of those thrown overboard were able to get out of the caves themselves by walking to the exit through water approximately 5 to 6ft deep. Sixteen people were rescued by Fire and other Emergency Services personnel.
“We have an inflatable boat that we can launch virtually anywhere through the use of compressed air. We put rescuers on that boat to go down that 300ft corridor, and we were able to bring back three or four people at a time,” Quagliano said.
Rescue crews also used heavy machinery to breach a wall to get to some of the trapped individuals, none of whom were wearing life jackets, according to Quagliano. The entire rescue operation took upwards of an hour.
Quagliano told reporters it is believed that the man who died was trapped under the capsized boat for some time before rescuers were able to get to him.
All of those on board were local individuals from the Niagara County hospitality sector. The tour was organized by Destination Niagara USA, the tourism promotion agency for Niagara County.
“Every year, we host familiarization tours across Niagara County for free for all hospitality employees of Niagara County,” said Andrea Czopp, Destination Niagara USA representative. “So these are all hospitality employees across Niagara County, between our office staff as well as others.”
The Niagara County dive team was still on site this afternoon supporting the recovery of the boat.
Lockport Police Chief Steven Abbott said that the area is being treated as a crime scene and an investigation into the cause of the incident is ongoing. Agencies involved in the investigation include the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), New York State Police, the Niagara County Sheriff, Lockport Fire Department, and the Niagara County dive team. The National Transportation Safety Board has also been notified.
The Lockport Cave and Underground Boat Ride has been operational since 1977, according to their website. The company is privately owned by Clancy Burkwit and Thomas Callahan, who also own the Niagara Zipper tourist attraction in Lockport. No prior fatalities have been reported at either the Lockport Cave Boat Ride or the Niagara Zipper.
Valerie Wales contributed to this report.
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