Two rescued after boat explodes

Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Bystanders rushed to save two people aboard a 22-foot family fishing vessel that exploded Monday at the Anchorage small boat launch.

It was the second boat loss in less than a week for the Smith family of Wasilla.

Evelyn Smith, 42, and her father-in-law, Dave Smith, 68, were heading out in an attempt to salvage a boat that overturned last week across Cook Inlet.

Witnesses reported seeing them try to start the boat's engine several times.

Sandy Hoffman of Portland, Ore., was standing on a nearby bluff and saw the boat explode, throwing the Smiths across the enclosed cabin as the glass blew out.

The Smiths were trying to crawl out of the boat when rescuers reached them.

Hoffman's son and husband and three other bystanders grabbed the Smiths and were carrying them up the ramp to safety when flames engulfed the boat, sending up thick black smoke that was visible from downtown office towers.

''Carrying the guy up, we could feel the heat on our backs,'' said Ron Hoffman. ''I didn't look back at the fire. We were just getting out of there.''

Anchorage firefighters extinguished the blaze, but the boat was destroyed. The Smiths suffered broken bones and bruises from being thrown across the cabin but were not burned, said Deputy Fire Chief Bridget Bushue. They were treated and released from an Anchorage hospital.

Fire inspector Cleo Hill said the explosion does not appear suspicious. Such a blast is usually caused by flammable vapors in the bilge, she said.

Steve Smith, son of Dave and husband of Evelyn, had launched another boat with his son Sean and was just offshore when the explosion occurred. He said he didn't realize strangers were rescuing their family members.

''It was smoking, and when I turned around, big flames,'' Steve Smith said. ''We couldn't even get close to it. ... I didn't know they were out of the boat.''

A couple of minutes later, he saw his wife and father safe on high ground above the launch.

The family was heading out in an attempt to salvage his boat, which overturned Thursday near the Little Susitna River. Steve Smith said he and his wife were commercial fishing when large waves overturned the boat. They beached it on a sandbar and escaped to shore, where they were picked up by a National Guard helicopter.

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