Lockport Cave restarts walking tours, taking city official by surprise

Aug. 28—LOCKPORT — A top city official said he didn’t know the Lockport Cave and Underground Boat Ride planned to reopen until Monday morning when news outlets began calling him.

The Lockport Cave operation had remained closed since June 12, when its tour boat capsized, killing a Niagara Falls man and injuring 11 other passengers. One day later, Jason Dool, Lockport’s chief building inspector, deemed the attraction unsafe for occupancy.

Dool on Monday said he has had no recent communication with the operators of the business, which revealed Sunday that it would resume offering candlelight walking tours in the underground space. The announcement didn’t say anything about the boat tours.

“I had no knowledge that any of this was happening,” Dool said in an interview.

He said he is waiting to see proof that the company has corrected the electrical issues he found during an inspection one day after the fatal incident.

Thomas Callahan, the attraction’s co-owner, did not respond to messages seeking comment Monday. An employee who answered a knock at the door of the Lockport Cave said the company couldn’t talk to a reporter because of potential litigation.

The business announced Sunday on its Facebook page that it was now taking reservations for its cave walking tour.

“The staff and management of the Lockport Cave would like to thank everyone for their patience and understanding during this unique and difficult period,” the company said on its website.

It’s not clear whether this means the City of Lockport has completed its investigation into the fatal incident.

Lockport Mayor Michelle Roman and Lockport Police Chief Steven Abbott did not answer requests for comment on Monday. Roman and Abbott have declined throughout the summer to provide updates on the status of the police-led investigation.

The fatal incident drew international attention and raised questions about who, if anyone, was responsible for oversight of the cave boat tour.

Twenty-eight passengers, all connected to the Niagara County tourism industry, and one operator were on the boat when it capsized, pitching everyone into the water.

Authorities described a chaotic scene in the darkened passageway as they worked to rescue those who couldn’t get themselves to safety.

Harshad Shah, 65, was pinned under the boat and drowned before he could be saved. He was a native of India and the longtime president of the Budget Host Inn in Niagara Falls. His wife also was on board and was injured in the incident.

Dool said he was called to the scene one day later by the Lockport police chief because of concerns about electrical installation in the tunnel area.

Dool previously said he found a broken conduit that left wiring exposed, including to water; areas where the wrong wiring was used; and a rusted panel box.

A sign posted June 13 on the door leading to the underground boat tour said the venue was unsafe for occupancy because of “electrical hazards.”

That sign was no longer on the door Monday, something that surprised Dool because, he said, only a city employee can remove it.

“To my knowledge,” he said, “they have not corrected any of the electrical issues that were identified in the cave.”

Dool said he expected to know more by Tuesday about next steps for the city and the attraction.

June 12 was not the first time a tour boat capsized in the cave. A similar incident took place in 2015, The Buffalo News previously reported, though no one was seriously injured in the earlier incident.

The News on June 16 requested records related to that earlier incident, and whether any follow-up inspection or response was made, from the state Power Authority, which oversees the Canal Corporation. The Authority has not yet provided any records.

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