TAMPA (CBSMiami/AP) – Passengers and crew on board a casino shuttle boat were forced to jump overboard after it caught fire Sunday afternoon just off the coast of Port Richey late Sunday afternoon.
One woman died, 15 others treated for chest pains and smoke inhalation.
The shuttle boat has just started a roughly three-mile journey to the Tropical Breeze casino boat when the captain noticed something was wrong with the engine.
“Next thing you know he started seeing smoke. That’s when he decided to beach the boat up on shore,” said Pasco County Fire Deputy Chief Andrew Fossa.
The captain turned toward back toward shore and ended up near Harbor Point in Port Richey.
Video taken by Lisa Schultz, who watched the boat approach, shows flames engulfing the boat in a matter of minutes.
“We were nervous that it was going to blow up,” she said. “You could feel the heat off of it.”
She and her husband rushed to help those forced to jump into the cold Gulf water.
“We had to get into the water at one point. And it was just freezing,” said Schultz. “And they were jumping off the front of it.”
Passengers made it to shore, wading through yards of shallow water to reach emergency personnel and nearby homeowners who had come out to help.
“They were pulling clothes out of their closet to bring out to us to put on to keep warm,” said Shelia McAffee who had been on the shuttle.
Authorities say the decision to turn the boat around prevented a major disaster.
“I have to praise the boat captain, for getting the boat in so close that when they got in the water they had a very short distance to walk,” said Fossa.
One woman who had been on the shuttle went home but became very ill. Around 10 p.m., she went to the emergency room at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point where she died.