Four hurt in boat explosion

Gas fumes in hull may have ignited(7/26/98 Cape Cod Times)

By SEAN GONSALVES

STAFF WRITER

EAST DENNIS - A 30-foot sportfishing boat exploded in Sesuit Harbor yesterday afternoon moments after refueling, sending a South Yarmouth family and a dock worker to the hospital. Russell Wood, 69, was badly injured in the blast and was flown to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston by helicopter. He was listed in serious condition late last night.

Dennis firefighter Mike Hersey, the first rescue worker on the scene at the Northside Marina, said Wood suffered "severe lower extremity and abdominal trauma," and called the injuries "potentially life-threatening." Wood's wife, Dorothy, 53, and stepdaughter, Kelly Smith, 21, were also on board when the explosion blew the entire deck and everything on it into the air. They were taken to Cape Cod Hospital, where Smith was admitted in stable condition and Wood was being evaluated last night. Also taken to the hospital was a marina dock worker, Tiffany Brinkman, 19, whose leg was injured by bits of shrapnel. She was treated and released.

The three women suffered minor fractures, cuts and abrasions, Hersey said. "It was horrible. We were just about to go down and get on our boat when I heard this big boom," said Brewster summer resident Evan Epstein, whose father's boat was moored about 25 feet from the Woods' boat. "It sounded like a cannon went off. And then there was this huge flash of light." "The thing blew up, and I got hit in the head with a board," said North Eastham summer resident Carol Richmond, who was standing several feet from the explosion. Richmond, her husband Arthur, and several friends were preparing to board their boat after stopping to refuel. "Our friends had just got on board - not even 10 seconds - when the boat blew up. There's pieces that were blown into our cabin," she said. The Richmonds' boat was moored right next to the Woods' boat - the Night Hawk.

Investigators have not determined the cause of the explosion. However, William Phillips of Dennis, a Coast Guard auxiliary member and certified boat inspector, who was nearby at the time of the blast, described what probably happened. "From the looks of it I would say either the blower wasn't working, or he didn't use it," Phillips said. "If you don't turn the blower on to bring in new air and push out the gaseous fumes, this is what happens. Under the right circumstances this whole dock could have blown up."

Phillips said all boaters with in-board engines should blow out the gaseous fumes before starting the engine. Whenever a boat is fueled, gas fumes fill the bilge of the boat, because gas is heavier than air, he said. A blower displaces the gaseous fumes with clean air. If not, an explosion is almost certain to follow when the engine is started. Just before the explosion, Wood had pumped gasoline into the Night Hawk's 300-gallon tanks. The boat was moored to the dock at the harbor's entrance, several feet from a gas pump operated by Brinkman. "You could hear him start the engine, and then immediately the explosion. It was so loud and scary. And then you heard screams, and I saw (Dorothy Wood) go into the water," another witness said.

The hull of the Woods' boat remained virtually intact, so the vessel did not sink. The top was destroyed, leaving a floating piece of twisted metal and shattered wood. The explosion didn't cause much of a fire. Hersey said when he arrived there were no flames coming from the boat, although smoke was billowing out. Russell Wood had to be removed from the wreckage by rescue workers. Dorothy Wood was blown off the Night Hawk and had to be fished out of the harbor waters. Rescue workers from Brewster, Harwich and Yarmouth assisted the Dennis Fire Department.

Almost 200 people gathered around the harbor and on the nearby beach, watching firefighters inspect the mangled wreckage. Environmental police put "boomers" into the water to soak up any fuel that may have leaked into the water. The boat was then towed the a nearby landing and removed from the water. The state fire marshal's office and Coast Guard officials are investigating the incident.