State fish and wildlife officials say a Lexington fire and rescue boat carrying a deceased Raven Run hiker had too many firefighters in it when it capsized in the Kentucky River on March 19.
The boating accident report by Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife officers said seven people were in the boat that capsized — over the manufacturer’s capacity of six people or 800 pounds. The boat, which was too heavy, was sitting low in the water when a second rescue boat passed it. The wake from the second rescue boat capsized the first boat, the report said.
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife has jurisdiction over Kentucky waterways.
The boat originally had four people in it. But after Lexington firefighters recovered the body of the deceased hiker, three people were added to the boat that was already over capacity, the report said. The firefighters also had rescue equipment, adding more weight to the boat.
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Mary “Katie” Katharine Stewart, 22, a Transylvania University student and a Kenton County native, died after falling about 75 feet at the city-owned Raven Run park. Stewart was dead when rescuers found her body. Fire and rescue teams determined it was easier to remove Stewart’s body via the water because of the steep cliffs at Raven Run.
There are lessons every time we make a run.We try to learn from every event — good and bad.
Lexington Assistant Fire Chief Harold Hoskins
“The capacity plate for vessel #1 read ‘max capacity 6 persons or 800 lbs.’ With all the equipment on board and the four original personnel the vessel was at max capacity for weight already,” the report said.
A second rescue boat was also in the water. That second boat had passed the boat with the seven firefighters in it. “The wake of vessel #2 began to make vessel #1 rock back and forth and vessel #1 then started to take on water from the waves. Vessel #1 took on enough water from the wake causing it to capsize, flipping the vessel completely over in the water.”
All of the firefighters in that boat were able to get safely to shore and all of the equipment was recovered. Divers were able to retrieve Stewart’s body.
Lexington Assistant Fire Chief Harold Hoskins said at a news conference Thursday that the report provided some valuable lessons but said no one will be punished. Hoskins was acting fire chief at the time of the incident.
“I feel for the family for Ms. Stewart,” Hoskins said. The department received the report Thursday and had not had an opportunity to thoroughly review it, he said.
“There’s nothing new in that report,” Hoskins said. “There are lessons every time we make a run. We try to learn from every event — good and bad.”
The release of the fish and wildlife report was the first time the department acknowledged that the boat carrying Stewart’s body had too many people in it. Previously the fire department had only said it was investigating why the boat had capsized.
In a written statement, Hoskins said the department will make several changes “as a result of our own internal review, principally improved training, notification, safety procedures and equipment. Those changes are in progress. We will review the state’s report to determine if additional steps are needed.”
Hoskins also noted that were no injuries related to the incident. “And we are thankful that we were able to bring the incident to a safe conclusion without additional injuries in a timely manner.”
The Herald-Leader obtained the report through an Open Records Act request. The report was completed May 10.
The city released a report by its risk management department in late April about the March 19 incident. That report also recommended the city explore additional signs at the popular hiking spot warning hikers not to veer off designated trails. Investigators believe Stewart was likely 100 to 150 yards off the marked trail when she fell, the report found.
In addition, the report recommended police and fire improve communications with park staff. Mayor Jim Gray’s proposed budget includes money for radios for parks department staff. Those new radios will be able to communicate with first responders, city officials have said.
That report did not address why the boat capsized.