CLEARWATER BEACH, Fla. — Coast Guard Cutter Viking capsized off the Gulf Coast of Florida Friday, leaving all 34 of its crew members soaked and irritated.
At approximately 5:45 p.m., an unidentified piece of mechanical equipment exploded in the boat's engine room. The force of the blast blew a hole into the hull. The boat immediately turned onto its side and would have likely overturned had it not hit the sea floor.
"It was awful," said Randy Myers, who witnessed the explosion while at the beach with his children. "Out of the corner of my eye I saw a big flash, and then a second later heard the boom. The boat went down right away, man. Then I saw the lifeguard tear ass down the beach into the water and run out to the boat."
Myers was at the beach playing volleyball with his daughters, Kendra, 12, and Monique, 14.
"When we realized that people might need help, me and the girls waded out to the wreck. But by the time we got out there, everyone on the boat was already walking back to shore, so me and the girls just kind of encouraged everyone, you know, telling them they didn't have far to walk. Luckily, with this heat wave, the water temperature was pretty comfortable."
Coast Guard spokesperson Jenna Wrigley said that all crew members were dried off immediately and are recovering at home with their families or at Shooter's Bar and Grill for dollar draft night.
Witnesses say the boat captain, Cmdr. Jonathan Crowley, initially attempted to go down with the vessel. After he realized that the boat had sunk as far as it could go and he still remained dry, he jumped into the water and joined his crew in the long walk to shore.
The boat remains on its side off of Clearwater Beach. Coast Guard rescue personnel are waiting for the tide to go out. When it does, a handful of the command's strongest personnel will walk out to the boat and carry it back to shore.
This is the worst Coast Guard tragedy since February of 2007, when 23 personnel at Coast Guard Air Station Houston contracted food poisoning from undercooked hamburgers at a barbecue fundraiser.