Victim identified in fatal capsizing of cave tour boat in Lockport

Lockport police have identified the man who died Monday when a tour boat capsized during a cave tour of the Erie Canal in Lockport, Niagara County.

Harshad Shah, 65, of Niagara Falls died following the late morning incident, in which a flat-bottom boat overturned and all 29 people on board were thrown into the water, Lockport police said.

Shah, who had been trapped underneath the overturned boat, was pronounced dead at the scene. Eleven other people were taken to area hospitals for treatment.

Who is Harshad Shah?

According to his obituary, Shah was born in Baroda, Gujarat, India and lived in Niagara Falls. He was the longtime president of the Budget Host Inn in Niagara Falls. He was survived by his wife, children, grandchildren and numerous other relatives.

Harshad Shah, 65, of Niagara Falls died Monday, June 12, 2023, when the boat he was in capsized in Lockport.
Harshad Shah, 65, of Niagara Falls died Monday, June 12, 2023, when the boat he was in capsized in Lockport.

WGRZ, the NBC affiliate in Buffalo shared a statement from Shah's family: "Harshad Shah was a family man who will be deeply missed. His wife remains in shock, unable to come to terms with this fatal event that unfolded before her eyes. We are all seeking answers to the why and how of this tragedy. The loss of Harshad Shah has forever changed our family, leaving an irreplaceable void."

Shah's funeral will be held Thursday in Niagara Falls, according to M.J. Colucci & Son Funeral Chapel.

What happened in the Lockport cave?

The boat apparently became unbalanced near the end of a 300-foot-long tunnel and capsized, throwing all on board into the water, which is between 5 feet and 6 feet deep.

Some passengers were able to get to safety on their own. Emergency responders using an inflatable boat rescued about 16 others.

At the time of the incident, the boat was operating a morning tour of an underground tunnel built to carry water from the Erie Canal underneath the City of Lockport to area businesses. The water temperature in the cave is between 55 and 60 degrees.

Local, state and federal agencies are investigating what caused the craft to overturn.

The tours take visitors on an underground boat ride through a dimly lit, rough-hewn tunnel, which was blasted out in the 19th century to transport canal water as an industrial power source. Lockport Mayor Michelle Roman on Monday said that the attraction has operated since the mid-70s and will remain closed during an investigation.

It happened before

A similar capsizing incident occurred in September 2015, when staff and clients of Baker Victory Services were thrown into the water when their boat also flipped while on the Lockport Cave Tour, said John Pitts, spokesman for the agency, which has since been renamed OLV Human Services. He did not know whether the incident was formally reported at the time.

Sheri Scavone said that her son, then 15, was on the boat that capsized in 2015 and is still traumatized by the experience he remembers vividly.

“Thankfully, this kid knew how to swim and was strong,” Scavone said Tuesday, “but there was nothing to grab onto, the sides were slippery. It was pitch black. The boat was capsized.”

At the time, Scavone was only concerned with her son’s well-being, she said. Now she wishes she hadn’t let it go and is troubled that the tours have continued to operate without at least handing out life jackets.

Samantha North told The Buffalo News that she also was on the 2015 tour as an employee of Baker Victory.

The boat became unbalanced and flipped midway through the tour, she said, after passengers were instructed to stand up and turn around for the return trip.

“It seemed like it took forever” to get out of the chilly water, she said, where passengers, purses, cellphones, keys and other belongings ended up.

Includes reporting from The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Harshad Shah killed after cave tour boat capsized in Lockport NY