A tour boat capsized in a cave along the Erie Canal in western New York state Monday, sending several passengers into the water and killing a man, authorities said.
Lockport police officers and firefighters rushed to Lockport Cave & Underground Boat Ride and pulled people out of the water after the first calls for help came in about 11:30 a.m., officials said.
A passenger was trapped under the vessel after it went bottom-up and was declared dead once he was pulled from the water, the Lockport Fire Department said in a statement. The man was not immediately publicly identified pending notification of his wife, officials said.
“The boat did a 180-degree turn, so the bottom of the boat was upright in the water,” Fire Chief Luca Quagliano told reporters. “A number of victims were on top of that boat initially when rescuers got to them.”
First responders pulled 16 people from the water, 11 of whom were taken to hospitals for minor injuries and hypothermia, the fire department said, echoing a preliminary narrative offered earlier by Lockport Police Chief Steven Abbott.
Twelve other passengers were tall enough to walk through the water while breathing and reach safety, the fire department said. Rescuers used an inflatable boat and breached a cave wall to reach riders from different directions, it said.
A city police officer who entered the water to help passengers was later taken to a hospital to be evaluated for possible hypothermia, the fire department said.
A firefighter sustained a minor, unspecified injury but remained on duty, it said.
The people in the boat were hospitality and travel professionals in the area on a “familiarization tour,” guests of Destination Niagara USA, which promotes local tourism, officials said.
“Wet and shaken up is definitely an understatement,” Quagliano said.
The boat was near the end of its 350-foot journey when it capsized.
“There’s no treacherous spots to traverse or anything like that. It’s well-lit throughout the cave system,” Quagliano said. “This place has been in operation for decades without incident. The staff there is very well trained.”
Investigators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, the sheriff’s office and local police were at the scene.
“So at this time, we are considering it a crime scene until further notice,” Abbott said.
The famed Lockport Cave was the subject of a 2016 episode of the Syfy network show “Ghost Hunters.”
The owner has been cooperating with investigators in the early stages of the probe, authorities said. Operators of the site did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the 1800s, the site, which includes early Erie Canal locks, was used for a pioneering system that fed and pressurized the city’s fire hydrants. The cave and boat tour, which commenced in 1977, is promoted as a must-see attraction for visitors to nearby Niagara Falls.
The boat that capsized was built specifically for travel in that cave, officials said.
“So it’s not something that was built … and brought in at a later date,” Abbott said. “They actually built it within the structure of that cave.”
The cause of the capsizing was under investigation, the fire department said.