Photo/Illutration Tomoya Toyota, center, head of the association of pleasure boat companies for the Hozugawa river, based in Kameoka, Kyoto Prefecture, speaks to reporters at a news conference on March 29. (Nobuhiro Shirai)

KAMEOKA, Kyoto Prefecture--Officials from the operator of the sightseeing boat that capsized in the river here say the accident resulted from the steersman falling overboard and the vessel striking the rocks. 

The Kameoka-based association of pleasure boat companies for the Hozugawa river reported at a news conference on March 29 that the crew member steering the boat from the back missed the water with his long rudder oar.

He then lost his balance and fell overboard, and the boat soon hit the rocks and flipped over.  

Saburo Tanaka, 51, the crew member who was plying the long pole in the front of the boat, died in the accident. Another crew member, a 40-year-old man who was rowing the boat in the middle and who rushed to the back to take over, fell into the river and went missing.

According to interviews with the two surviving crew members, it took just over 10 seconds from the time the steersman fell overboard to when the boat hit the rocks.

The two said that one of the two rowers rushed to the rear to steer, but the boat gradually drifted to the left. It collided with the rocks and Tanaka at the front fell into the river.

He was not wearing a life jacket when he was pulled from the water. But it is believed that he was wearing one at the time the tour started, according to the operator.

After hitting the rocks, the boat remained pinned there and capsized after taking on water from the river's swift current.

If there is no crew member steering the boat, it will veer out of control, said Tomoya Toyota, 57, the association's head.

“The boat was unable to navigate and veered off its normal course,” he said.

He said it is unclear why the crew member missed the water with the rudder oar and fell into the river.

“We sincerely apologize for the frightening moments experienced by our customers who were involved in the accident,” Toyota said.

“We express our heartfelt condolences to (the crew member who died),” he added and bowed deeply.

The boat was carrying 25 passengers and four crew members when it capsized in the Hozugawa river at around 11 a.m. on March 28, according to the association.

Kyoto prefectural police and firefighters searched for the missing rower with a helicopter and a boat from the morning of March 29 but could not find him that day.

The government’s Transport Safety Board dispatched two ship accident investigators to the site the same day to examine the recovered boat.

On the morning of March 30, the police and firefighters said they received information that a body was found about 400 meters downstream from the accident site. They are currently checking the details. 

(This article was written by Shogo Mitsuzumi, Suzuka Tominaga and Takeshiro Tokunaga.)