October 3, 2005

NY shipwreck survivor tells of plunge and rescue

By Holly McKenna

QUEENSBURY, New York (Reuters) - Relaxing in upstate New
York after a relief mission to hurricane-devastated Louisiana,
Jean Siler suddenly became a victim herself when a wake toppled
the pleasure boat she was on, killing 20 elderly passengers.

"I went on the cruise as a release from stress of working
in Louisiana. We were having a beautiful trip," Siler, 76, told
reporters on Monday, a day after the tragedy at Lake George,
200 miles north of New York City.

"I was on the boat one minute and in the water the next. I
went deep into the water, took a deep breath and treaded water
and pushed my way back up to the surface," she said.

When the American Red Cross volunteer reached the surface,
she grabbed a tow rope that was tossed into the water by a
woman on another boat -- and became one of the survivors.

"I'm very used to coping with grief and tragedy, but not
for myself. I was not prepared. I never got to say goodbye to
my friends. There was a lot of screaming," she said.

Siler told her story as investigators pulled the 40-foot
(12-meter) boat from the bottom of Lake George, surrounded by
wooded hills.

The probe began with a preliminary interview with the
captain, Richard Paris, and more clues would be sought from the
wreckage, which spent the night on the bottom of the lake, some
70 feet beneath the surface.

"He (Paris) tells us he got into some waves in a wake. He
attempted to steer out of it and in doing so the boat pitched
over on its side," Warren County Sheriff Larry Cleveland told a
news conference.

The acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety
Board, Mark Rosenker, said "nothing is ruled out" in the

"It's much too early to determine what happened on that
lake. Nothing is off the table," Rosenker told a news

Authorities suspended the license of the captain and those
of two similar boats also owned by Shoreline Cruises, pending
results of the investigation.

The boat turned on its side so quickly there was no time
for the 47 elderly passengers to put on life jackets while
rescuers rushed to the boat a few hundred feet (meters)

The death toll was revised down to 20 from the 21 reported
initially. There were 28 survivors including the captain. The
dead were aged 55 to 90, some of whom used walkers on board.

The toll could rise again, Cleveland said, because some of
the seven hospitalized victims had severe injuries.