Marine Accident Report

Sinking of the U.S. Small Passenger Vessel Panther
Near Everglades City, Florida
December 30, 2002

NTSB Number MAR-04/01
NTIS Number PB2004-916401
PDF Document(1 MB)

Executive Summary: On December 30, 2002, the U.S. small passenger vessel Panther, a 31-foot open wood-and-fiberglass boat operated by Everglades National Park Boat Tours, was on its third tour of the day in the Ten Thousand Islands area of Everglades National Park, Florida, with 33 passengers on board (including 5 children) plus a master. Midway through the tour, shortly after 1430, the vessel sank in about 12 feet of water in Indian Key Pass, about 3 1/2 miles from the National Park Service visitor center near Everglades City. Three nearby vessels responded to the accident and rescued all the passengers and the master from the water. The U.S. Coast Guard launched a search-and-rescue operation that involved five Coast Guard stations in south Florida; however, responders did not find any passengers in the water. No fatalities resulted from the accident, but one passenger suffered a serious injury. Damage to the Panther was estimated at $60,000. The Coast Guard reported that costs of the search-and-rescue operation exceeded $50,000.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the Panther’s sinking was flooding through a hull breach, which resulted from an earlier grounding and which Everglades National Park Boat Tours neglected to address, instead choosing to operate the vessel with a known failure of watertight integrity and inappropriately relying on the bilge pumps to keep the vessel afloat, thus continually putting its passengers at risk.

Based on its investigation, the Safety Board identified the adequacy of the following as safety issues:

As a result of its investigation of this accident, the Safety Board makes two new recommendations to the National Park Service.