1 saved, 2 missing in river whirlpool
Written by Buffalo News - Skeiner   
Sunday, 09 October 2005 13:15
A charter boat captain and one of his two passengers are missing and presumed drowned after their boat got caught in a whirlpool and capsized in the lower Niagara River near the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge Saturday, authorities said.

Police identified the two missing people as Steve White, 43, of Ransomville, and his passenger, Lauren Barsamian, 27, of New City.

The surviving passenger, John Rice III, 36, of Harrington Park, N.J., was plucked from the water by another charter boat captain.

"The boat got caught in some type of whirlpool and the back end of it started to dip. The operator couldn't get the engine started," Lewiston Police Sgt. Frank Previte said. "What generally happens when they go up there to fish is fishermen turn their engines off and drift so that they don't scare the fish."

Rice told police they were not wearing life jackets, authorities said, although the preservers were on board.

White, the missing captain of the 19-foot Starcraft vessel, was apparently sucked under by the powerful whirlpool into water approximately 100 feet deep.

His passengers, who had chartered the boat to fish for salmon, were able to stay above the surface and call for help.

Charter Captain Joseph V. Marra Jr. of Lewiston heard their cries and maneuvered his boat into the currents, where he reached over with help from his passengers and pulled Rice aboard. Marra then attempted to save Barsamian, but she vanished into the water.

"The boat flipped upside down. They were yelling for help," said Marra, who was visibly shaken as he spoke of the rescue. "I grabbed one person and we got him in the vessel, and we tried to get the woman. We almost got her, and then she went down."

Dave Elliott, a charter captain from the Town of Niagara, described the rescue as a miracle.

"Joe saved someone and put his own life on the line," Elliott said. He described the water discharge areas for the New York State and Canadian hydropower projects, located near the bridge, as "a place you don't fish."

"Currents can be as fast as 25 miles per hour," Elliot said. "I saw the Starcraft boat fishing up in Devil's Hole earlier."

Marra used his cell phone to alert authorities of the accident, Previte said.

Rice, the rescued passenger, was taken to Mount St. Mary's Hospital, where he was listed in stable condition Saturday night.

The accident comes as salmon fishing season is drawing large numbers of anglers to the river. Coast Guard Chief Dennis O'Connell said the accident underscores the need for boat passengers to wear life preservers.

The capsized boat was recovered and taken to the Coast Guard's Niagara station in Youngstown where it will be examined, he said.

The missing captain was licensed by the Coast Guard to operate a charter fishing boat, said O'Connell, who described weather conditions Saturday as more treacherous than usual because of a strong north wind.

"The water temperature was in the mid-60s, and hypothermia can set in fast," he said.

The search for White and Barsamian will continue today. At one point Saturday, three helicopters from the Coast Guard, Niagara County's Sheriff's Department and Homeland Security searched for them. Several boats from various agencies also patrolled the water.

 
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