Fifty passengers aboard a casino shuttle headed into the Gulf of Mexico were forced to jump ship into frigid waters after the boat caught fire Sunday.
The boat was heading to meet an offshore casino ship where gambling is legal when the fire broke out around 4 p.m. The captain immediately tried to turn the boat around and grounded it near a residential community on Harborpointe Drive.
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Authorities say the ship's captain is to thank for saving the lives of all aboard after he brought the burning boat to within 100 yards of shore making it much more feasible for passengers to reach shore.
Passengers were forced into the cold gulf waters and wade to shore as flames enveloped the doomed boat. Luckily, some good Samaritans were there to wade into the waters and aid the passengers.
Christine Hashim, a nurse anesthetist, has experience in emergency situations and was there to aid the passengers who were struggling to reach the shore.
Hashim says a neighbor first noticed smoke in the air and when she looked to the water she saw people struggling to get to shore, some appeared to have medical problems.
Hashim worried that some might suffer from hypothermia and to add to her concern the boat exploded. This didn't stop her from wading into the water to help the struggling passengers. "People were scared," she said.
Another local, 57-year-old Larry Santangelo, was driving into his neighborhood on Harborpointe when he saw the smoke and thought a home was on fire. "When I got closer, I saw people walking around confused and shaking," Santangelo said.
Santangelo was worried the wet people would suffer from hypothermia so he invited around 30 passengers into his garage. "It was so windy and they were soaking wet."
"I just started putting them anywhere I could fit them — my garage, my fishing room. I brought them socks and more towels," Santangelo explained. Santangelo is originally from Long Island, New York and he says the casino shuttle passes by his home almost every day.
Santangelo was still cleaning up after the dozens of stranded passengers who he helped Sunday night. "I’m washing about 70 towels tonight," he said.
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office, Coast Guard, Pasco Fire Rescue, Florida Fish, and Wildlife Commission and Port Richey police all assisted in the rescue.
"At the end of the day, everyone’s cold, everyone’s wet, but everyone’s safe," said Detective Angel Russo of the Port Richey Police Department.
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