- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2004

BALTIMORE (AP) — The water taxi that capsized in the Inner Harbor in March and killed five persons was carrying 700 pounds too much weight when it was hit by high winds in a sudden storm, according to a federal report.

The operators of the Lady D followed the 25-passenger limit set by the U.S. Coast Guard. But the Coast Guard set that number too high because it had used outdated estimates of average passenger weight, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The Coast Guard had used a 1960s-era estimate that an average passenger weighs 140 pounds when it certified the stability of the 36-foot-long, 8-foot-wide pontoon boat.

An investigation into the accident revealed that the average weight of the 14 men, eight women and three children aboard the Lady D was 28 pounds more than the Coast Guard’s estimates, meaning that a boat tested as safe for 3,500 pounds actually had 4,200 pounds aboard, the NTSB report said.

“Vessels operated in an overloaded condition are exposed to a higher capsize risk,” said the NTSB, which did not reach a final conclusion about the cause of the accident. A final report is due in about six months.

Three of the five who died were from Virginia.

The agency recommended Monday that the Coast Guard “take immediate action” to bring its average passenger weight figures up to date and ensure that none of the 270 other commercial pontoon boats operating nationally is using excessively high passenger limits.

“The safety board is concerned that the Coast Guard is not using a realistic average occupant weight in calculating the number of people that can be safely carried on pontoon vessels,” the report said.

“In addition to the significantly higher average weights found on the Lady D accident voyage, U.S. government reports show that Americans of all ages are much heavier today than [in 1960]; average weight has increased dramatically in the last 40 years,” said the report, which was released late Monday.

In the report, the NTSB suggested using an average weight of 174 pounds per passenger, noting that in 2002 the mean body weight of men was 191 pounds and that of women was 164 pounds.

Lt. Ron Mench, a spokesman for the Coast Guard, said Monday night that he couldn’t comment on the report because he was not sure whether his agency has received it.

NTSB spokeswoman Lauren Peduzzi said the recommendations are nonbinding and intended to “open a conversation” with the Coast Guard about revising passenger weight standards.

The accident was the first fatality involving the city’s water shuttle services, and it seriously injured four passengers — including a 9-year-old girl, who slipped into a coma — in addition to the five killed.

The accident sparked a lawsuit against the owner of the Seaport Taxi, the Living Classrooms Foundation, from everyone on board the boat except the captain.

The lawsuit was settled in October for an undisclosed amount.

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