A gaggle of boats rushing back to a marina after a Fourth of July fireworks display in Florida turned into a frantic rescue operation on Friday night as three boats collided at high speed, killing four people and injuring at nine.
The accident happened at around 10:45 p.m. Friday night, near the Dinner Key Marina, in Miami. One of the boats was a 36-foot pleasure craft with a full cabin while the others were open fishing-style skiffs with outboard motors.
It took rescuers and the Coast Guard hours to ascertain exactly how many people were killed, hurt and missing, as confusion reigned in the dark. Two bodies were recovered Friday night and two more Saturday morning, and helicopters continued to comb the area throughout Saturday.
“My understanding is they may have been out there enjoying the fireworks display, and typically after the fireworks are over, everyone makes a mad dash for the nearest marina," said public information officer Jorge Pino, of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "And unfortunately in the past we've seen where accidents have occurred during that time."
Though US boating has gotten increasingly safer over the past few years, the Florida crash is a cautionary tale about the unique dangers of driving water craft during the summer high boating season, especially at night.
The US Coast Guard reports that 560 deaths and 2,620 injuries were reported on US waters in 2013. That amounts to 4.7 deaths per 100,000 registered boats in the US – a 23 percent drop from 2011 statistics.
“Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed, and machinery failure rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents,” according to the Coast Guard.
The extent to which any of those factors played into the crash on Friday night will be determined by an investigation. Authorities said they had recovered all three boats involved in the crash.