Crews breached wall, deployed inflatable boat to rescue tourists in N.Y. cave
Lockport fire officials release new details of the rescue effort following a tour boat's capsize
By Maki Becker
The Buffalo News
LOCKPORT, N.Y. — The call for help came in to 911 at 11:28 a.m. Monday.
A boat loaded with more than two dozen people deep inside the Lockport Cave & Underground Boat Ride had capsized.
There were people in the water who needed help to get to safety.
A day after the tragic incident at the popular Niagara County tourist attraction that claimed one life and left 11 people injured, Lockport fire officials released new details of the frantic rescue effort.
Crews from five fire units arrived at the scene in under a minute.
Commanding the operation was Assistant Fire Chief Jon Fredrickson who officials said was met by the owner of the Lockport Cave attraction who told them about the capsized boat.
Working with the Lockport Police Department, emergency responders established two routes to get to the stranded passengers.
One group of rescuers went to the "normal docking area inside the cave" where they inflated a rescue boat and launched. Firefighters paddled their way 300 feet to the capsized craft.
A second group used sledgehammers and crowbars to create a hole closer to where the boat was, fire officials said.
The first responders rescued 16 people using the two routes.
"Twelve people were tall enough to be able to walk through the waterway back to the dock area on their own," according to the release from the fire department.
Eleven people were taken to a local hospital to be treated for what were described as mild injuries and mild hypothermia. In addition, a Lockport police officer who raced into the water to assist victims was taken to a local emergency room for evaluation of hypothermia. A firefighter suffered a minor injury but remained on duty.
Officials said one person was "immediately trapped underneath the boat" and was dead when he was extricated. Authorities have not released the victim's name. He was described Monday as a man in his 60s.
The rescue effort included 10 Niagara County agencies, including members of the county's technical rescue team and the sheriff's dive team.
State and federal agencies were investigating what happened.
The 28 of the 29 people aboard the boat at the time were hospitality workers from across Niagara County and one tour staffer. They were part of a tour set up by Destination Niagara USA to show off Lockport attractions.
On Tuesday, John Percy, the President and CEO of Destination Niagara USA expressed his sorrow about Monday's events.
"We are devastated and heartbroken by the tragic accident that took place in Lockport, NY yesterday involving our frontline familiarization tour. There are no words to convey the profound sorrow we feel for the loss of one of our hospitality partners. On behalf of everyone at Destination Niagara USA, we offer our deepest sympathies to their family and loved ones," he said in an emailed statement. "We are also incredibly thankful for the quick response and diligent work of multiple local and regional agencies of first responders, whose swift action assisted in the rescue mission."