Tour boat capsize in New York underground cave wasn't the first: agency

Soon after a tour boat flipped over during a tour of a dimly lit cavern system, leaving one passenger dead, members of another group recalled a similar experience while taking the same tour eight years ago, and questioned whether anything had been done since then to make the attraction safer.

News of the 2015 capsizing emerged as the investigation into Monday's accident continued. A passenger who survived the most recent ordeal recounted how he fought to breathe under the upside down craft.

The flat-bottomed boat carrying local hospitality workers capsized during a tour of a historic underground water tunnel off the Erie Canal in the western New York city of Lockport.


1 dead, several rescued after tour boat capsizes in underground NY cave

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.

Eight years earlier, clients and staff of the former Baker Victory Services ended up in the water when their boat also flipped, said John Pitts, spokesman for the agency, which has since been renamed OLV Human Services.

Few details about the incident were available, according to Pitts, who arrived the following year. He said it was unclear whether it was formally reported.

"I wish I knew more, but all I understand is that there was an incident where a boat had turned over and our staff and various individuals helped individuals out of the water to safety," he said.

On Monday, one man died, and 11 people were taken to hospitals, mostly with minor injuries, after the tour boat operated by Lockport Cave Tours capsized.

The passenger who died was also trapped beneath the boat. Lockport police late Tuesday identified him as Harshad Shah. An online obituary from M.J. Colucci & Son Niagara Funeral Chapel identified Shah as a 65-year-old Niagara Falls resident who served as president of the Budget Host Inn in Niagara Falls.

Lockport Mayor Michelle Roman said during a news conference that the attraction, located about 20 miles northeast of Niagara Falls, has operated since the mid-1970s without incident.

That's when Sheri Scavone said she "lost it." She said her son, then 15, was on the boat that capsized in 2015 and is still traumatized by the experience he remembers vividly.

"Thankfully, this kid knew how to swim and was strong," Scavone said by phone Tuesday, "but there was nothing to grab onto, the sides were slippery. It was pitch black. The boat was capsized."

At the time, Scavone was only concerned with her son's well-being, she said. Now, she wishes she hadn't let it go and is troubled that the tours have continued to operate without at least handing out life jackets.

The tour boat’s operator has not responded to requests for comment.

City of Lockport Police were investigating the accident. The mayor's office and fire chief did not respond to emails and texts seeking an update Tuesday.

The tours take visitors on an underground boat ride through a rough-hewn tunnel, which was blasted out in the 19th century to transport canal water as an industrial power source.

CAROLYN THOMPSON, with the Associated Press, helped contribute to this report.