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20 Tourists Killed When Boat Sinks

October 8, 1998

BANYOLES, Spain (AP) _ An overloaded tour boat carrying about 140 people sank in tranquil waters of a lake in northern Spain, killing at least 20 French retirees.

The electrically powered catamaran was licensed to carry 80 people, Xavier Pomes, a regional official, said. An investigation was under way to determine the official cause of the accident.

The boat sank under clear skies and in calm waters as it set off at midmorning to circle Lake Banyoles, just north of Barcelona and about 350 miles northeast of Madrid.

An employee at the tour operator’s ticket office said 141 tickets were sold. So far, only 139 people, including the pilot, have been accounted for, but it was not known if two of the ticket holders were on board the boat at the time of the accident.

Police underwater divers scoured the water and the boat’s wreckage Thursday afternoon searching for victims but halted the search at nightfall. National television showed bodies covered with blankets lining the small pier at the lake and rescuers pulling bodies into small rowing boats.

The boat had just left its mooring and was about 30 feet out on the lake when the pilot realized there was problem and tried to turn back, a police officer at the scene said. The vessel sank, stern first, just six feet from shore, leaving its bow sticking out of the water.

Most of those who drowned were believed to have been on the vessel’s lower deck.

``We could see old people up to their necks in water shouting for help and other people crying,″ an unidentified schoolgirl told national television.

All 20 dead were French retirees: 13 people who drowned in the water and seven who died after being taken to local hospitals.

Another 38 people were treated in a hospital after the accident.

Most of the passengers were French retirees from the western coastal region near La Rochelle, 250 miles southwest of Paris.

The La Carpa firm that owns the boat said it was launched earlier this year and made 50 trips daily on the lake, the largest in the northeastern region of Catalonia.

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