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Faulty Pump, Seal Blamed in Sinking

May 9, 1999

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) _ Investigators examining the raised wreckage of a tourist boat said Sunday that an out-of-place seal and a broken pump apparently caused the vessel to sink suddenly, killing 13 people.

Capt. Glenn Anderson, who heads the Coast Guard’s effort to determine how the May 1 accident occurred, said a seal on the drive shaft was pushed forward by 3 inches, opening a hole in the bottom of the boat.

In addition, he said, water that was filling the hull was not pumped out of the craft because of a broken bilge-pump hose.

``A lot of details all go wrong together for a casualty (total) like this,″ Anderson said.

A Navy salvage team using a crane raised the amphibious craft Sunday from where it had rested on the bottom of Lake Hamilton, 50 to 60 feet below. A formal marine board inquiry begins Monday, according to Coast Guard spokeswoman Allison van Hagen.

``They’ll have a better idea of what to ask″ now that investigators have had a look at the hull of the craft, van Hagen said Sunday.

The boat took on water and sank about seven minutes after setting out from shore with 20 tourists and its driver aboard.

Last week, boat driver Elizabeth Helmbrecht told officials she had taken the vessel in for repairs two days before the accident, because a seal around a drive shaft was leaking. The fatal trip was the first for the boat since that visit to the repair shop, she said.

Helmbrecht, and the Land and Lake Tours Inc., which operated the boat, were named as defendants Friday in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed in federal court by the husband and son of one of the 13 victims, Lana Jo Berry, 42, of Dyersburg, Tenn.

Van Hagen said the boat would be taken to a National Guard armory for a more complete inspection.

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