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Water taxi capsizes in Baltimore harbor

At least 1 of 25 aboard boat dies; 3 still missing


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Passengers were thrown from the boat into chilly waters.

The rescue operation has turned to a recovery mission.
YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS
Coast Guard
Baltimore (Maryland)
Waterway and Maritime Transportation

(CNN) -- A water taxi capsized Saturday afternoon in the Inner Harbor area of Baltimore, Maryland, near Fort McHenry, killing at least one person.

The Baltimore Fire Department had announced earlier that two people had died but lowered the toll hours later.

Among those who survived were the boat's captain and assistant captain.

Three of the 25 people who were aboard the pontoon boat when it capsized about a mile from shore are missing and presumed dead.

James Gardner, a spokesman for the Baltimore City Fire Department, said the effort changed from a rescue to a recovery mission about 6:30 p.m. The accident occurred at 4:15 p.m.

The 22 who were rescued were pulled from the water in the minutes after the accident, Baltimore Fire Chief Bill Goodwin said.

All of them were still hospitalized Saturday evening. Two were in critical condition.

The accident was apparently caused by a quick-moving squall that chased the boat as it sped toward shore to tie down.

The fire department and nearby Navy Reservists immediately began a rescue mission.

"The squall that came through hit us all by surprise," Goodwin said. "Luckily there were people there who were witnessing what happened. The fire boat people saw what happened. The Navy Reservists were here training for the weekend and saw what happened."

As the boat neared shore, the squall flipped it upside-down, witnesses said. Two people were able to get on top of the capsized boat and help others aboard as it drifted out of the harbor.

"Had no one been looking, this tragedy certainly would have been a lot, lot worse than it already is," Goodwin said.

The water in the Inner Harbor was 46 degrees when the boat capsized -- cold enough to cause hypothermia, officials said.

Hours after the accident, boats from the U.S. Coast Guard and the city's fire department patrolled the harbor looking for survivors.

A statement released by the director of Seaport Taxi, owner of the capsized boat, also suggested high winds were to blame.

"What occurred is that apparently a front was coming through," Nar Izzano said. "The boat was attempting to tie up, to secure. Before it could get to that point, the wind hit it and caused it to flip over."

The privately run water taxis carry passengers, typically tourists, around the city's Inner Harbor district.

Passengers are told in advance that the boats will not operate during thunder and lightning storms. If storms occur, the boats are supposed to stop at the nearest dock until the storm passes.

"This is very, very uncommon," Izzano said. "These boats have been in service in this harbor for over 10 years, and this is the first such incident."


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