The glass-enclosed Ethan Allen was carrying tourists when it capsized. The accident on Lake George may have occurred when the boat was hit by the wake of a larger vessel, Warren County Sheriff Larry Cleveland said.
The 40-foot boat was carrying a tour group from the Trenton, Michigan, area, and was just north of the village of Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains. With calm waters, clear skies and temperatures in the 70s F (about 21 Celsius), it seemed perfect boating weather.
Congressman John Sweeney, who talked with survivors at the hospital, said the boat sank in about 30 seconds, giving victims no time to react. The sheriff said none of the passengers was able to put on a life jacket.
Adult boat passengers are not required to wear life jackets in New York, but boats must carry at least one life jacket per person.
Patrol boats that reached the scene within minutes found other boaters already pulling people from the water. All passengers had been accounted for within two hours.
Twenty-seven people were taken to a hospital in nearby Glens Falls. Some suffered broken ribs and others complained of shortness of breath. Seven survivors were to be admitted, hospital spokesman Jason White said.
He said the hospital had received 21 bodies.
Dorothy Warren, a resident who said she brought blankets and chairs to shore for survivors, said one passenger told her "she saw a big boat coming close and she said, 'Whoop-dee-doo. I love a rocking boat."'
Warren said the woman did not know how she got out of the water but said her mother was killed.
Officials gave conflicting information on the number of dead and passengers. Cleveland said there were 48 or 49 people aboard, which was close to the boat's maximum capacity of 50.
Police said the boat pilot was interviewed. The New York Times reported that investigators had not tested him for drug or alcohol use because there was no evidence of intoxication.
The boat was last inspected in May 2005 and no problems were found, according to Wendy Gibson, spokeswoman for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Many of the bodies were laid out along the shore, and the site was blocked off by police. A hearse, police vehicles and several sport utility vehicles later began taking the dead from the scene.
The weather did not appear to be a factor on the lake, a long, narrow body of water that is a popular tourist destination in the summer and quiets down after Labour Day. The water temperature was 68 degrees F (20 Celsius).
"This was as calm as it gets," said Jerry Thornell, a former Lake George Park Commission patrol officer and a lake enforcement officer for the county sheriff's department.
As dusk fell, several police boats were on the water, and at least half a dozen divers were in a small cove on the west side of the lake. The Ethan Allen lay at the bottom of the lake in 70 feet (21 meters) of water.
"It should have been a day of enjoyment," said state police Superintendent Wayne Bennett, who was out boating on the lake earlier Sunday. "Instead, it was one of sadness."Reuse content