For the second time in two years, a Fourth of July fireworks show viewed by a flotilla of boaters has led to tragedy, after four people died and several were injured in a three-boat collision off Miami on Friday.
Hundreds of boats that had gathered on Biscayne Bay to view the fireworks were headed back to shore when the collision occurred. Coast Guard Sector Miami said it received notification at approximately 10:45 p.m. from a boater stating that his 36-foot boat — identified in reports as a 2005 Carrera center console — had been struck by another powerboat — identified in reports as a 2003 32-foot Contender center console. He said the Carrera was taking on water, and several people were in the water with injuries, according to the Coast Guard.
There were five people aboard the Contender and eight aboard the Carrera. The Contender's operator and a passenger were thrown overboard, and two others aboard were critically injured and unconscious.
Capt. Burt Korpela, of Atlantis Marine Towing and Salvage, was one of the first on the scene. He said he found the Contender running in circles. "The boat was running out of control in circles 20 to 25 mph," he told CBS4.
The Contender crashed into a 35-foot Boston Whaler with nine people on board. A salvage crew was able to jump aboard the boat and bring it to a stop, according to a report by Local 10 News. One person on the Whaler sustained minor injuries.
"We kept getting report after report of more people in the water," Miami Fire Rescue Lt. Ignatius Carroll told the news crew.
"I can tell you, based on the officers on scene, it was one of the most chaotic scenes that they have ever been involved in," said Jorge Pino, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“I can’t even describe it,” Heather Hanono, 22, a passenger on the boat that was initially struck, told the Miami Herald. “It was horrible.”
Authorities identified the victims as 23-year-old Andrew Garcia, 20-year-old Victoria Dempsey, and 24-year-old Kelsie Karpiak, all from Miami and aboard the Contender. Jason Soleimani, 23, of Old Westbury, N.Y., was on the Carrera and was reportedly killed immediately when the Contender hit it. The impact left a substantial hole on the starboard side of the Carrera.
Coast Guard officials reported they had contacted the owner of the Contender and were informed that the owner’s son had taken the boat out Friday evening.
"Typically after the fireworks are over, everyone makes a mad dash for the nearest marina," Pino, of the FWC, told CBS News. "And unfortunately in the past we've seen where accidents have occurred during that time."
The cause of the collision is under investigation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Pino said no charges had been filed, though the investigation is ongoing.
The accident occurred two years after Kandi Won, a 34-foot Silverton with 27 aboard, capsized after fireworks in Oyster Bay, N.Y., on July 4, 2012. Three children died in the capsize, which prompted action by legislators and boating safety groups on the issue of passenger capacity limits.