Jun 1, 2011, 7:02 AM
Post #1 of 3
Story source: http://tinyurl.com/EYC-053111
Accident at the Erie Yacht Club
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A woman was killed and six people, including a child, were injured when a powerboat exploded and sank after refueling at the Erie Yacht Club on Monday evening (May 30, 2011).
Three of the injured people were flown to a Pittsburgh hospital to be treated for burns, the Yacht Club's general manager said.
He said five of the people were on the boat at the time, including the woman who was killed, and the two other people worked for the private Erie Yacht Club, at the foot of Ravine Drive off Virginia Avenue.
The names and ages of the victims were not available. The Yacht Club declined to release the names, pending notification of relatives.
Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook was still on the scene late Monday night and was not immediately available for comment. Authorities spent much of the night trying to recover the woman's body.
Firefighters were dispatched to the Yacht Club at 6:33 p.m.
Investigators on the scene, including those with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, were looking into whether the explosion was related to gas fumes accumulating on the boat, a 32-foot Wellcraft built in the mid-1980s.
The fumes might not have been blown off, as is supposed to happen before the engine on a refueled boat is restarted, said Michael Lynch, the Yacht Club's general manager.
Before the explosion, the boat had refueled at the fuel dock at the end of the Yacht Club's eastern pier, Lynch said at a news conference in front of the Yacht Club's clubhouse at 9:30 p.m.
He said the explosion occurred as the boat started up after the refueling.
After refueling, and before restarting the engine, "you are supposed to put the blower on to take the fumes out of the boat," Lynch said. "That is the typical operating procedure for a powerboat -- you put the blower on after you refuel."
He said he was uncertain whether the fumes and the blower caused the explosion, but that investigators were exploring that possibility. Agencies involved were expected to be the Erie Bureau of Police, the Fish and Boat Commission and the Coast Guard, police said.
The woman who was killed was not a member of the Yacht Club, Lynch said.
He said she was friends with the owners of the boat, who he said are Yacht Club members and were aboard the boat when it exploded.
The explosion shook the 1,200-member Yacht Club at the end of the busy Memorial Day weekend, which opens the summer sailing season. The club was celebrating its 117th opening day and held a ceremony that morning.
Crowds of boaters witnessed the explosion from their boats, their slips or from the clubhouse, where some were celebrating.
"It was like a bomb going off," said club member Sally Kohler, who was in the dining room. "You could see a rush of smoke coming from the place. It was like a bomb exploding."
She said the noise sounded like that of a cannon going off on the U.S. Brig Niagara.
Another woman said she heard the explosion at West Fourth Street and Lincoln Avenue, about four blocks south of the foot of Lincoln Avenue, which overlooks the Yacht Club.
Another woman said she heard the blast at West Seventh Street and Vermont Avenue, more than seven blocks away.
The Yacht Club placed buoys and absorbent pads in the water to contain gasoline that spread after the explosion, Lynch said. A dark orange-brown liquid could be seen floating on top of the water shortly after the blast.
Ambulances, police cars and firetrucks streamed into the Yacht Club after the explosion. Erie Fire Chief Tony Pol was on the scene, and the Erie County Sheriff's Office scuba team also assisted.
The Yacht Club moved a boat hoist over to the spot where the explosion occurred, apparently to pull the damaged boat out of the water. It had not been raised by nightfall.