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Cruise operator shut down after deadly accident

Gov. Pataki: 'A tragedy of immense proportions'

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The top of the boat is visible as it is raised Monday.

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New York

LAKE GEORGE, NEW YORK (CNN) -- A tour boat that sank to the bottom of New York's Lake George Sunday, killing 20 elderly passengers, did not have enough crew on board, authorities said Monday.

Shoreline Cruises, which owns the Ethan Allen, was effectively shut down by state authorities investigating the accident.

The operator's licenses have been suspended pending the investigation, said Wendy Gibson, a spokeswoman for the New York Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Department. (See video on probe seeking answers -- 3:09)

State regulations required the excursion boat, which carried 47 passengers, to carry a crew of two. But local authorities said only one crew member -- Capt. Richard Paris -- was aboard when the boat capsized and sank.

Shoreline Cruises operates four other boats on Lake George; the vessels can hold from 30 to 400 passengers.

Paris, a former state trooper, as well as the tour boat operator have been cooperating with the accident probe, Warren County Sheriff Larry Cleveland said.

Earlier Monday, authorities raised the boat from a depth of 70 feet to the water's surface and began towing it to shore.

According to Mark Rosenkar, acting chairman of the NTSB, investigators will "take a look at every single screw" to find out what caused the disaster.

"We're going to find out why this happened so we can prevent it ever from happening again," Rosenkar said.

The 40-foot Ethan Allen capsized on Lake George, about 50 miles north of Albany, about 2:55 p.m. Sunday, Cleveland said.

The weather was calm, with temperatures near 70 degrees, when the boat sank off Cramer's Point, on the western shore of the lake. (See witness account of "terrible tragedy" -- 3:21)

Survivors told authorities that they slid to one side of the boat, said state police superintendent Wayne Bennett.

"That, of course, would automatically mean an even bigger shift of weight," he said, adding that the NTSB would determine what caused the initial tilting.

Witnesses claimed the wake of a larger vessel, the Mohican, caused the boat to roll over and sink. That craft is operated by the Lake George Steamboat company. (Map of area)

Bill Dow, the company's owner, told CNN the Mohican was on the lake Sunday afternoon, but it was two miles away from the Ethan Allen and had nothing to do with any wake that might have caused the accident.

Dow said the NTSB had not yet contacted him regarding the incident.

But Rep. John Sweeney, a New York Republican, cautioned against "jumping to final conclusions."

"There are a lot of perspectives that have been gathered. It was fairly obvious last evening, talking to the survivors, some have different versions than others," Sweeney said. "We will get to the truth because the experts have experience at this."

New York Gov. George Pataki called the incident "a tragedy of immense proportions."

He told reporters at Lake George it's "unthinkable" that people could come to "one of the most beautiful places in America ... and have it turn into tragedy."

He said New York has "among the toughest boating safety laws in America," but that they will be reviewed after the NTSB determines the cause of the incident "[in order] to do everything we can and prevent it from happening again."

The passengers were elderly Michigan residents on a tour of the lake, he said.

Authorities have identified all the bodies and notified the next of kin, Cleveland said.

"Everyone knows the status of their loved ones," he said.

Cleveland said no names would be released until he spoke to Michigan authorities, "to brace that community first."

"We don't have any indication that anyone had any time to put a life preserver on before the boat capsized, which took place in a matter of seconds," Cleveland said.

New York law does not require adults to wear life preservers, he said, only that there be enough flotation devices on board.

Cleveland said the investigation was being handled as a criminal matter "as a normal course of business."

"As I speak to you now, I do not believe that there is any criminal culpability involved," he said.

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