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Boat in Tampa Bay catches fire near Apollo Beach, injuring passengers

It was shaping up to be a relaxing Saturday aboard the 33-foot Sea Ray anchored at Beer Can Island, a popular weekend destination for recreational boaters south of Tampa.

Six children were watching movies below deck. Five adults were in the back of the boat, and three others waded about 30 feet away.

Then, just before 12:30 p.m., an explosion aboard the anchored craft shattered the midday calm. It caught fire, and seven of the 14 passengers were critically injured, said Gary Morse, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Three of the victims suffered life-threatening injuries.

Amy Leventry and her family were boarding their 26-foot cabin cruiser when they heard a loud boom. At first she thought the sound came from training exercises at MacDill Air Force Base.

"Then we heard the Mayday call," she said.

Her boat, along with 100 others, responded and saw black smoke billowing from the craft as dozens of people crowded around the injured on shore.

Six adults and one child were taken by helicopter to Tampa General Hospital, Morse said. Five children were treated for smoke inhalation and released from Tampa General, and one adult was taken to Brandon Regional Hospital but not critically injured, said Craig Lynn, shift commander for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.

Their injuries likely included burns and broken bones, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Robert Simpson.

Morse did not have names of the people aboard. However, he said the 1995 Sea Ray cabin cruiser is registered to George Meyer, who was on board at the time of the explosion.

Morse said the 14 people were an extended family that departed at 10:30 a.m. from Apollo Beach.

Boats with onboard gasoline engines, like the Sea Ray, store vapors in the bilge and an electrical spark could cause a fire or explosion, Morse said. But only the generator was on when the boat caught fire.

"We do not know if that is the case in this explosion," he added.

Dianna Wisecarver, who was aboard Leventry's watercraft, said she watched the flames consume the boat until it was almost underwater.

"The survivors were taken off the boat relatively quickly, and there was a paramedic already on the island treating people when we got there," she said.

A security boat from MacDill was among the first responders, followed by an Eckerd College boat, Lynn said.

Three adults and several children were brought to shore at Williams Park in Riverview. The children were carried from boats to waiting ambulances.

The Associated Press and Times staff writer Kainaz Amaria contributed to this report. Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or rmitchell@sptimes.com.

Boat in Tampa Bay catches fire near Apollo Beach, injuring passengers 05/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 19, 2009 2:08pm]
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