Tahoe Queen stuck on sandbar, 300 passengers rescued (updated)
August 11, 2014
UPDATE: The Tahoe Queen returned to Ski Run Marina under its own power Tuesday evening, after four commercial salvage boats pulled the stuck vessel off a sandbar.
The salvage boats were able to rotate the Queen, then tow it into deeper water about 5:30 p.m., according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
The original story follows:
About 300 passengers on the Tahoe Queen were evacuated Monday after the paddle wheeler ran aground about 1 mile off the shore.
The Queen had recently departed for its day cruise when it became stuck about 4 p.m. on a sandbar near Regan Beach, said Dave Freireich, spokesman for Aramark and Lake Tahoe Cruises.
After trying unsuccessfully to free the boat, the company called the U.S. Coast Guard within 30 minutes, according to Freireich.
Rescue crews arrived by boat and began taking passengers back to Ski Run Marina in groups. The Coast Guard, South Lake Tahoe Police Department, El Dorado County Sheriff's Office, Douglas County Sheriff's Department and Aramark assisted in the evacuation, along with area fire departments.
No injuries were reported during the incident, and most passengers remained "relatively calm" and "in decent spirits" in the shuffle, said Lt. junior grade Sean Kelly of the U.S. Coast Guard.
On Tuesday, Freireich said the company did not know the extent of the damage, if any, or how the boat had gotten stuck. It did not appear to be taking in water.
Vessel inspectors and investigators from the Bay Area have been assessing the situation, while The Queen remains grounded in about 4 to 6 feet of water.
Among other things, Kelly said the investigators are looking into the amount of time passengers were onboard the immobile vessel before authorities were called for help.
"(The team) is investigating a cause of incident, conducting a safety investigation and developing a salvage plan," he said.
According to Aramark, guests of the cruise were offered a refund.
In January, low water levels caused Lake Tahoe Cruises — operator of the Tahoe Queen and M.S. Dixie II — to stop tours into Emerald Bay for a period of time.
Low water levels are now being blamed for an increase in damaged boats, according to marinas in the area.
Darren Kramer, operations manager Obexer's Boat Company, said he sees at least two damaged boats per week as a result of shallow waters.
"A lot of people are trying to get into areas that were previously OK to get into, and now they're not able to," he said.
Chad Holdren has heard similar stories while working at the Tahoe Keys Marina. However, the front desk manager said bigger boats seem to be the most at risk.
"In my five and half seasons of being here," he said, "we haven't had any problems with those bigger boats until this season."
Lake Tahoe was at 6,223.82 feet above sea level as of Tuesday. The natural rim is 6,223 feet.
With the lake as low as it is, Holdren suggests boaters use extra caution when close to the shore.
"Just be careful on your way out and in," he said, adding. "Take your time and ask for advice."