YNN 10 Years: Ethan Allen tragedy on Lake George
Few stories in YNN’s 10-year history evoke the powerful memories of the Ethan Allen tragedy. That day, a group of tourists - only intending a short visit to the North Country - became forever connected to Lake George. Community leaders pause each October to remember, and seven years later they say it’s the community’s response that still stands out. Brooke Selby has the story.
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LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. -- "It was a beautiful, calm day in Lake George," recalled Lake George Mayor Robert Blais. "It was as nice a day in October that you would ever get, and it just became I would think the darkest day in Lake George since I’ve been mayor."
Lake George Mayor Robert Blais witnessed a lot in his 42-year tenure as mayor - but this day was drastically different.
He said, "We went up to the site on Kramer Point where you could see the folks that had perished lying on a lawn of one of the homes that fronted on the lake, and of course the rescue had already been underway."
The Ethan Allen, a small tour boat owned by the Shoreline company, made a sharp turn on the lake and capsized at 3 p.m. that afternoon. The boat had a tour group of 47 passengers - all senior citizens from out of state plus a crew member.
Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan said, "The first thing I did was say a prayer. The boat had capsized. I knew that there were elderly people on the boat."
Blais said, "These folks had come to us from the Detroit, Michigan, area by bus to enjoy all of the beauty and foliage in Lake George, had gotten on that vessel and unfortunately many of them had perished."
Seven years ago, on the second of October, now retired Sheriff Larry Cleveland answered a call he’ll never forget.
"I think that when it rolled over people were simply trapped underneath and could not get out," he said. "Most folks that passed in that incident died from drowning."
Within minutes, those nearby the lake stepped up to help alongside local law enforcement.
Cleveland said, "While we were there, we were the public image. The private people were just as accountable and just as important as we were. They rescued more people than we did actually."
Even so, more than half of the passengers aboard died, and that loss was not taken lightly in the days to come by this community.
Cleveland said, "It was the biggest outpouring of community support that I had ever seen in my entire career."
People donated use of their homes, facilities and food for the survivors and their families. In the months and years following, the standard of boating regulations was challenged.
Many speculate that it was the turn the Ethan Allen made or that it could have been a wake from another boat, but actually it was the weight of all the passengers that contributed.
Cleveland said, "If I remember right it was almost two and a half tons of weight more on the boat than should have been on it. That’s incredible...put your car on it."
Boiling down to boat stability and passenger capacity, not owner negligence.
"The grand jury did two things," Hogan said. "They issued a report which made a number of legislative recommendations. They also charged the Shoreline company for not having adequate crew."
The boat was certified for 47 passengers plus a pilot and crew member for a vessel that had the stability of no more than 14 passengers. Immediately after, Governor Pataki changed the law regarding the certification for all public vessels.
Cleveland said, "I think what is more impressive to me is what happened after, and that’s the motels and the food and the planes and the travel and getting people around and making phone calls. It was just amazing."
Today, a memorial stands at Sheppard Park to honor those who were lost.
Blais said, "It was a very difficult, but it was a time I believe that Lake George stepped up to the plate and let the people know that we could do something as good as we could to be respectful."
Making sure that Lake George will never forget one of the darkest days in their history.