One person was killed and multiple people were sent to local hospitals after a boat capsized Monday during a tour of an underground cavern system built to carry water from the Erie Canal beneath the western New York city of Lockport, officials said.
Police and fire crews were called to the Lockport Cave Tours, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) northeast of Niagara Falls, at about 11:30 a.m. The tours take visitors on an underground boat ride illuminated only by small lights.
“The boat did a 180-degree turn, so the bottom of the boat was upright in the water,” Lockport Fire Chief Luca Quagliano said at a news conference. “A number of victims were on top of that boat initially when rescuers got to them."
He said all 29 people on board the flat-bottom boat were thrown into water between 5 feet and 6 feet deep when the boat apparently became unbalanced and capsized toward the end of the roughly 300-foot tunnel.
A boat moves through the double lock system on the Erie Canal in downtown Lockport, N.Y., Aug. 24, 1993. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes, File)
Some passengers were able to get to safety on their own. Rescue crews using an inflatable boat rescued about 16 others, he said.
Authorities did not immediately release the name of the man who died. His wife was taken to a hospital, officials said.
“We have had eight of the passengers come into our ER,” said Patricia Brandt, spokeswoman for Eastern Niagara Hospital in Lockport. “None critical. They’re all stable and some have already been released.”
Brandt said she did not know the nature of the injuries but believed some were treated for cold from being in the water. Other patients went to other hospitals, she said, but did not have details.
Jeremy Swiatowy, 42, watched as rescue workers breached the wall to the cave with a sledgehammer before shimmying through the hole to help rescue the remaining people inside. Swiatowy said local schoolchildren often take tours at the Lockport, and locals were concerned that children might have been on the boat that sent people into the chilling water.
“The water in the caves is super cold,” he said.
This photo provided by Thomas Coleman shows people watching as people are rescued after a boat capsized Monday, June 12, 2023, during a tour of an underground cavern system built to carry water from the Erie Canal beneath the western New York city of Lockport, police said. (Thomas Coleman via AP)
Video footage from the scene outside the Lockport Cave office showed one person talking as she was loaded onto an ambulance. Others wrapped in white towels were being escorted to a bus as a steady rain fell.
Photos and videos posted on the Lockport Cave website show small, flat-bottom boats slipping through a rough-hewn tunnel, which was blasted out in the 19th century to transport extra water from the Erie Canal to power nearby businesses.
The tunnel was once the subject of an episode of the Syfy network show “Ghost Hunters."