PORT RICHEY, Fla. — One person has died from their injuries after a casino shuttle boat caught fire on Sunday afternoon on the Gulf Coast in Port Richey.
The shuttle boat was carrying 50 people to a casino ship when it became engulfed in flames forcing passengers and crew members to jump into the water on one of the coldest days of the season.
Fifteen people were taken to the hospital to be treated for injuries such as chest pain, smoke inhalation and other injuries, authorities said. One of those people succumbed to their injuries, officials said on Monday morning. The name of the deceased person has not been released.
"People started jumping out one by one, and the fire got really quick, really fast," neighbor Bakr Jandali said.
Jandali's family called 911 and helped people wading to shore, through water 8 to 10 feet deep.
"I just want to make sure they're okay, and you know, it's hard, because you want to try to save them," Jandali's mother, Hala Sahloul, said.
The casino shuttle boat, burnt to the hull. Pasco County Fire Rescue said it takes people about a mile offshore. They said the boat captain realized there was engine trouble early on and turned back.
"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," Andy Fossa, with Pasco County Fire Rescue, said.
People rescued left bundled up, thanks in part to neighbors who donated blankets and jackets. Many helped the first responders, like Officer Jason Zimmerman.
"We drag them to the shoreline and then there was neighbors that would be able to help them up out of the water, there was some seniors that were having some difficulty, there was a couple seniors that were face down in the water when we first arrived on scene," Officer Zimmerman said.
Frigid air and cold water added panic to the rescue, but everyone was able to make it to shore.
"If they were out any further this could have been a tragedy, certainly a different ending than this," Chief Jerry DeCanio said.
We're still working to find out what caused this boat fire.