50 rescued from casino shuttle boat fire in Port Richey

Cruise boat shuttle fire
Posted at 4:48 PM, Jan 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-15 08:32:21-05

**UPDATE (8AM MONDAY)** -- A female passenger on a casino shuttle boat that was consumed by a huge fire off Florida's Gulf Coast has died.
Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point spokesman Kurt Conover said Monday that the woman died late Sunday, hours after the fire. He said she had arrived less than an hour earlier after becoming ill. Her name has not been released and a cause of death has not been determined.
Officials had originally said none of the 15 injuries were life threatening. Passengers had experienced chest pain, smoke inhalation and other injuries. Conover said eight other people treated at Bayonet Point have been released.
Fire officials and witnesses say people leaped into chilly waters and reached shore in Port Richey in the greater Tampa Bay area after the fire Sunday afternoon.
The shuttle boat routinely carries people back and forth from the Tropical Breeze Casino Cruise, which is offshore because it can't legally operate close to land, according to authorities. The company didn't immediately respond to messages left seeking comment.
A cause wasn't immediately clear.


Dozens of people were forced to jump into chilly water on an unusually cold winter day on the Gulf Coast in Port Richey after the boat they were on became engulfed in flames.

A shuttle boat carrying 50 people to a casino ship caught fire on Sunday afternoon forcing passengers and crew members to jump into the water on one of the coldest days of the season. 

"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 safe. Fifteen people were taken to the hospital to be treated for injuries such as chest pain, smoke inhalation and other minor injuries, authorities said, adding no injuries were life-threatening.

"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.