MIAMI — At least four people were killed and seven were injured in a horrifying three-boat collision late Friday that left the waters near Dinner Key strewn with victims and rescuers rushing them to docks and waiting ambulances, officials said.
Two people were confirmed dead soon after the 10:45 p.m. collision on the Fourth of July, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Jorge Pino said Saturday. Rescuers found two more bodies this morning.
Pino said none of his fellow officers could remember a deadlier crash.
“The most that I can remember is three people died in Collier County about three years ago,” he said. “But as far as four fatalities in one single accident, I’ve never heard of that.”
Pino said the accident involved one larger boat and two “open-fisherman-style” boats, but that it remained unclear exactly how the crash happened.
At least nine people were sent to hospitals with injuries ranging “from minor to very critical,” Pino said. Three went to Mercy Hospital and two were airlifted to Kendall Regional Medical Center. Four people were taken to Ryder Trauma Center, two of whom were unresponsive and later pronounced dead.
“CPR was being performed (on the unresponsive victims) by paramedics all the way to the hospital,” Miami Fire Rescue spokesman Ignatius Carroll said.
Other victims went to the hospital on their own, Pino said.
Of the three victims admitted to Mercy Hospital, two were treated and discharged immediately. One victim remains in the hospital Saturday, Mercy spokeswoman Gloria Caballero said.
Two young children were rescued and reunited with family at Mercy Hospital, Carroll said.
Carroll described the scene as “chaos,” with the first calls to fire rescue reporting that two boats had collided. When paramedics went out, they discovered a boat with two women aboard, neither of them conscious or breathing.
Rescuers transferred the women to a Fire Rescue boat, Carroll said, and tried to resuscitate them as they headed back to the marina. As they rushed the women back to shore, Coast Guard crews pulled an unconscious man out of the water and a paramedic already aboard the Coast Guard vessel began to perform CPR on him.
With paramedics now performing CPR on three victims, calls continued to come in that more bodies were out in the water, Carroll said. So fire rescue crews dropped off the victims to paramedics on the ground and sped back out into the bay.
“We had boats motorcading back and forth bringing in injured people,” he said. “They were out there in the dark. What was really challenging was you don’t know how many people were on the boats.”
“There were people who were traumatized, injured, confused,” said Carroll. “We weren’t getting accurate counts of people. We were trying to determine, did we have everybody? And then we found out there was still a possibility two people” were missing.
Pino said the accident involved two separate collisions, one right after the other. All three boats were towed in and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will hold them for investigation in its North Miami base. Photos of one of the boats showed a large hole on its side.
Coast Guard Sector Miami said it responded to the crash after a boater on a 36-foot pleasure craft reported that another boat had struck his vessel. The boat was taking on water and passengers were in the water, the boater reported.
He added that the other boater did not stop after the collision, according to the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard said that when it contacted the owner of the boat that allegedly hit the vessel, the owner reported that his son had taken the vessel out Friday evening.
“The issue we see every year is that after the fireworks are over, there’s a mad dash to the marina,” Pino said.
Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials were talking to victims’ family members for help with the search efforts, Pino said. Names of the victims will not be released until all next-of-kin have been notified.