Casino shuttle boat fire in Florida kills 1, injures more than a dozen

Casino shuttle boat fire in Florida kills a woman and forces evacuations.

January 15, 2018, 1:25 PM

— -- A casino shuttle boat caught fire Sunday afternoon in Port Richey, Florida, killing a woman and forcing dozens to evacuate -- with some jumping into the frigid canal on the area's coldest day of the year, authorities said.

There were 36 passengers and 14 crew members aboard the vessel, which ferries people to the Tropical Breeze Casino boat that's moored 9 to 12 miles offshore in international waters in the Port Richey canal, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. Everyone was accounted for, the sheriff's office said, but 15 passengers were taken to a local hospital.

One of those injured, a 42-year-old woman whose name was not immediately released, died at 10:42 p.m. Sunday while being treated at Bayonet Point Regional Medical Center in Hudson, Florida, Kurt J. Conover, a hospital spokesman told ABC News.

Video taken by a witness on shore showed the flames rapidly sweeping through the boat from the bow to the stern, and people leaping overboard into water 8 to 10 feet deep. Witnesses on shore could be heard on the video yelling at passengers to jump.

Other passengers sustained minor injuries, including smoke inhalation and chest tightening, which are not considered life-threatening, the Pasco County Fire Department said.

Afternoon temperatures in Port Richey, which is near Tampa, dropped as low as 43 degrees, and the water was about 59 degrees -- cold enough, if in the water for a sustained period of time, for a person to experience hypothermia, authorities said.

The boat was still ablaze hours after it caught fire, the fire department said. The National Transportation Safety Board, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office are investigating the cause of the fire.

When the blaze sparked, the captain of the boat beached the vessel about 100 feet from shore. The relatively shallow water allowed rescuers to reach victims quickly and passengers to swim to shore, a spokesman for the fire department said.

Beth Fifer, a spokeswoman for Tropical Breeze Casino, said the company was "deeply saddened" by the death of the passenger. She declined to comment on a possible cause for the incident.

The incident could have been far worse had the boat captain not turned back to shore as soon as he noticed something had gone wrong with the vessel, Fifer added. The massive fire broke out as soon as the captain was turning the boat around.

"If the captain had ventured out further into deeper water, it would have been tragic," Fifer told ABC News. "The captain did the right thing and headed for land."

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