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Officials investigating boat explosion at Beer Can Island in Tampa; 6 still hospitalized

The 33-foot Sea Ray sits a a marina in Gibsonton after being towed in on Sunday, a day after it exploded.

Bay News 9

The 33-foot Sea Ray sits a a marina in Gibsonton after being towed in on Sunday, a day after it exploded.

TAMPA — Six family members remained hospitalized Sunday as officials investigated what caused their 33-foot cabin cruiser to explode and burn to the waterline Saturday afternoon.

That morning, George and Nancy Meyer of Apollo Beach boated with their married children and grandchildren, a group of 14, to Pine Key Island, more commonly known as Beer Can Island.

They anchored on the southwest corner of the island, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Gary Morse. The kids watched movies below deck.

Then, shortly after noon, an explosion rocked the twin-engine craft. It caught fire.

Six on the vessel, including one child, were seriously injured and airlifted to Tampa General Hospital, Morse said. Four children were treated at the scene for minor injuries. One child on the boat, and three family members wading in shallow water nearby, were not injured.

On Sunday, the six airlifted family members remained hospitalized. They are the boat's owner, George Meyer, 56, and his wife, Nancy Meyer, 54 of Apollo Beach; Logan Meyer, 7 and Angela Meyer, 36, of Iowa; and Carrie and Mike Atherton, both 32 of Lutz.

A hospital spokesman said the family asked that their conditions be kept private.

Others family members involved include Brian Meyer, 35, Brook Meyer, 6, and Abry Meyer, 4, of Iowa; Kim Sutton, 27, Chris Sutton, 32, and Kaleb Sutton, 2, of Lutz; and Quinn Atherton, 4, and Maddie Atherton, 7, of Lutz.

People gathered at the Sutton home in Lutz on Sunday declined to comment.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is leading the accident investigation with the help of the Tampa Fire Department's Investigations Unit.

"It's as bad an explosion and boat fire as I've seen," Morse said. He called it "horrific."

The vessel's owner is an experienced boater, he said.

Generally, on boats with inboard gasoline engines, like Meyer's Sea Ray, fuel vapors can collect in the bilge, even when engines are off. Vent fans usually remove fumes.

An electrical spark could cause a fire or explosion, Morse said. Only the generator was on when the boat caught fire.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Officials investigating boat explosion at Beer Can Island in Tampa; 6 still hospitalized 05/10/09 [Last modified: Monday, May 11, 2009 6:59am]
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