- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Americans’ expanding waistlines were a factor in the capsizing of a Baltimore water taxi that killed five persons in 2004, a trend that has led to other deadly transportation accidents, the National Transportation Safety Board said yesterday.

The board said the water taxi tipped over because excessive passenger weight made the boat too unstable to withstand a sudden gust of wind.

The NTSB said the Coast Guard underestimated the “tippiness” of the 36-foot Lady D pontoon boat because it used the results of a stability test designed for a different type of vessel.

The Coast Guard also assumed the average weight per passenger was 140 pounds, a standard that hasn’t changed since 1942, the safety board said.

“It’s the issue of what this thing can carry,” NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said.

The average weight among the Lady D’s 25 passengers was 168 pounds, making it 700 pounds overweight, investigators said.

As a result of the accident, the Coast Guard has implemented a more detailed stability test for pontoon boats.

Too much passenger weight was an issue in several other deadly accidents: the 2003 crash of a small plane in Charlotte, N.C., in which 21 persons were killed on takeoff; and the sinking of the Ethan Allen tour boat on Lake George in New York last fall, which killed 20 elderly persons.

In both cases, regulators relied on weight estimates that dated back to a time when Americans were slimmer.

On March 6, 2004, the Lady D had just left Fort McHenry with 25 persons on board when severe weather moved into the region.

The vessel, run by Seaport Taxi, was one of several small water taxis on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor when it was struck by winds nearing 50 mph. Passengers clung to its overturned hull in frigid water as they awaited rescue.

The National Weather Service concluded in August that its forecasters did not give timely warnings of the advancing storm.

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