NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs


March 9, 2004

Washington, D.C. -- The National Transportation Safety Board today determined that the probable cause of the sinking of a tour boat in the Everglades, on December 30, 2002, was flooding through a hull breach that resulted from a grounding some weeks earlier. The Board found that the tour boat operator neglected to identify and repair the damage to the hull, 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.

"This was a preventable accident that could have had tragic consequences," said NTSB Chairman Ellen Engleman-Conners. "Our concern was greatly heightened because these tour vessels often carry large numbers of children."

The accident occurred while the tour boat, Panther, a 31- foot open wood and fiberglass vessel, with 33 passengers and a master on board, was on its third trip of the day in the Ten Thousand Islands area of the Everglades National Park, Florida. Midway through the tour, about 3 1/2 miles from the National Park Service center, the vessel sank in approximately 12 feet of water. Three near-by vessels responded to the accident and rescued all the passengers and the master from the water. There were no fatalities, but one passenger was seriously injured. Damage to the vessel was estimated at $60,000.

The Board found that on an earlier trip in December 2002, the Panther went aground in Indian Key Pass, sustaining a fracture in the hull that eventually sank the vessel.

The Board also learned that the company, Everglades National Park Boat Tours, was aware about two weeks before the sinking that the Panther was not operating normally and was continually taking on water, but took no action to identify and correct the problem. Instead, the owner incorrectly relied on the Panther's bilge pumps to keep the vessel afloat.

Further, the Board found that the arrangement for storing lifejackets aboard the Panther made it difficult for the passengers to retrieve them in an emergency, especially if the vessel was fully loaded. In the accident, passengers were unable to obtain lifejackets before the vessel sank.

The Board concluded that had the operator followed a comprehensive maintenance and repair program, the vessel would have been drydocked, the hull fracture would have been discovered and repaired, and the accident would have been avoided.

As a result of the accident, the Board made recommendations to the National Park Service and the Coast Guard regarding oversight of tour boat concessionaires and requirements for maintenance programs and the availability of lifejackets.

A synopsis of the accident investigation report, including the findings, probable cause, and safety recommendations can be found on the Publications page of the Board's web site, http://www.ntsb.gov. The complete report will be available in about six weeks.

NTSB Office of Public Affairs: (202) 314-6100



The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.