A fire broke out on a shuttle boat that was taking passengers to a casino boat near New Port Richey, Florida, North of Tampa, leading to the death of one person and injuring 14 others.
The boat had 50 people on board when the fire started about half a mile from shore, said Shawn Whited, the Pasco County fire division chief. However, they all made it to shore safely.
The fire department Deputy Chief Andrew Fossa said that the injuries included smoke inhalation and chest pains. A statement released on Sunday evening revealed that those aboard were accounted for.
WFTS revealed that a female passenger was hospitalized with “symptoms” Sunday night and later died from her injuries. The cause of death hasn’t been released.
Officials from the Fire department revealed that the fire likely started in the engine room and spread quickly. According to the officials, the boat’s captain saved lives because he turned the boat around when he noticed the flames, managing to get closer to shore and making it easier for first responders to reach those in the water.
According to officer Jason Zimmerman of the New Port Richey Police Department said some of the older passengers were face down in the water when he reached them.
“If we didn’t show up at the time we did, there were going to be serious consequences,” Zimmerman said. The 59-degree water combined with Gulf breezes created a risk of hypothermia for the passengers, emergency officials said.
“They were absolutely frigid when they got out of there,” Fossa said.
The first 911 call about the fire came in around 4:15 p.m., CNN affiliate WFTS reported. The boat was still burning about two hours later.
A witness, who gave her name only as Hala, told WFTS that the fire broke out near waterfront homes, and passengers who jumped out and swam to shore ended up in backyards.