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Tour boat capsizes in cave along the Erie Canal in upstate New York, leaving one dead


By Eric Levenson, Laura Ly and Rob Frehse, CNN

(CNN) — A tour boat capsized in an underground cave along the Erie Canal in upstate New York on Monday, leaving one person dead and sending nearly a dozen others to the hospital, officials said.

A total of 28 visitors from a tour group and one staff member were aboard a boat operated by the Lockport Cave and Underground Boat Ride when it became unbalanced and flipped over, throwing everyone into the water, according to Lockport Fire Chief Luca Quagliano.

A 60-year-old man was stuck under the capsized boat and died, Quagliano said at a news conference Monday. Sixteen people were rescued by emergency crews while others were able to navigate out of the water safely, he added.

He said when crews arrived, the boat was upside down and some people were on top of the vessel.

Eleven people were taken to hospitals for non-life threatening injuries, including a broken arm and a possible head injury, Quagliano said. He noted the boat, a flat-bottom pontoon, could safely hold 40 people and no one had on a life jacket at the time the vessel capsized, though he said he was unsure whether wearing one was required.

The boat was touring the Lockport cave, police said. Located about 20 miles east of Niagara Falls near the US-Canada border, the Lockport Cave and Underground Boat Ride takes people along the Erie Canal through an underground cave.

“Embark on one of America’s longest underground boat rides along the Erie Canal and experience a trip of wonders,” its website states. “Visitors are awestruck as they take a ride that has been described as both ‘peaceful and eerie’ as the boat glides through the lifeless water, illuminated only by small, sporadically placed electric lights.”

The tour was part of a free “familiarization tour” that Destination Niagara USA hosts every year for hospitality employees from the county, said Andrea Czopp, Chief Operating Officer of the group.

The cave maintains a temperature of 55 degrees year-round. The water is about 5 to 5-and-a-half feet deep, with some areas as deep as 6 feet, Quagliano said.

The cave tour has been in operation since the mid-1970s without incident, Lockport Mayor Michelle Roman said.

The cave is just one small section of the Erie Canal, the 1825 landmark work of civil engineering creating a waterway connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.

Lockport Police Chief Steven Abbott said authorities are treating the area as a crime scene for now as their investigation continues.

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