Lake Hawea played host to a near-tragedy on Monday the 13th a jet boat exploded.
“I have never seen a boat on fire before, it was exciting and scary. Once we realised what was happening we were concerned there were people still on board or near it but then realised they had been rescued by some kayakers. Then it exploded and there were huge plumes of black smoke,” said local witness Jake Thompson.
“There was someone working on an old Hamilton jet boat on Lake Hāwea down at Scott’s Beach when it looked like it started close to shore then pushed out when fire started.... locals rushed to see if people were aboard but they jumped off and got picked up by kayakers close to shore. [It] took roughly five minutes for the Lake Hāwea Volunteer Fire Brigade to show up on the shoreline at Scott’s Beach. Local boaters ferried firefighters out to the wreckage so they could extinguish the fire,” shared Thompson.
In just a matter of minutes, what was a gorgeous afternoon on the water turned into a frantic leap for their lives. The jet boat set fire due to a small fuel leak, causing an explosion that made everybody leap into the water. The end result could have been tragic but thankfully the boat’s owner returned to shore as soon as he noticed the leak.
“Initially we were told that a boat was on fire on Scott’s Beach, but when we arrived it was about 100m off the beach,” said Brent Arthur, a local Hāwea volunteer firefighter. “At this point we needed to change plans and figure out how to get to the boat. By fortune, two other volunteer firefighters happened to be on the water were close by when the blast went off,” he added.
Arthur was amongst a team of three others who went out in two boats to figure out the best course of action. Upon getting close, they realised that the boat’s aluminum frame had nearly melted down to the water level. “The risk in extinguishing a fire at this point in the burn it that the likelihood of it melting becomes far greater. To avoid the environmental consequences of a sunken boat, the extinguishing foam and additional oil we decided that the best plan of attack would be to pull it to shore, whilst still aflame,” said Arthur.
The Lake Hāwea Volunteer Fire Brigade managed to successfully tow the boat ashore, extinguish what was left of the fire and keep it all contained on the vessel. The casualties: a wallet, a phone, car keys and everything else one abandons when fleeing an exploding boat.