A fire broke out on a shuttle boat taking passengers to a casino near New Port Richey, Florida, north of Tampa leaving 15 people injured.
Pasco County fire division chief Shawn Whited said 50 people were onboard at that time when the fire broke nearly half a mile from shore. Since the fire broke out near waterfront homes, passengers jumped out and swam to shore. Some ended up in backyards. All passengers managed to make it to shore. No casualties from the incident were reported.
Officials said that the boat’s captain managed to save people’s lives because of his quick decision to turn the boat around when he saw the flames, managing, in turn, to get closer to the shore and making it easier for first responders to get to those passengers in the water.
Officer Jason Zimmerman of the New Port Richey Police said they were just on time, and if they had been delayed by a bit, things would have turned out differently. He said that they even rescued older passengers who were face down in the water when rescuers reached them.
Emergency officials said the 59-degree water combined with Gulf breezes created a big risk of hypothermia for the passengers. Some were absolutely frigid when they got out of the water.
Despite the timely rescue, passengers still suffered some injuries including smoke inhalation and chest pains.
The good thing is all those aboard were accounted for after the fire and the rescue.
Investigations say the fire likely started in the engine room and spread quickly.
The first 911 call about the fire came in around 4:15 p.m. The boat was still burning two hours after the said call.