Three passengers and two dogs miraculously survived after their 72-foot yacht caught fire and sank off the coast of New Hampshire.
The chaos unfolded on Saturday when the boat, named the “Elusive”, was sailing towards a marina in New Castle, a small town located just a few miles south of the Maine border and composed entirely of islands on New Hampshire’s most eastern point.
At around 4pm, one of the passengers onboard realised there was black smoke billowing up from below deck, the New Hampshire Department of Safety said in a statement to USA Today.
“Whatever happened on the boat happened fast,” said Portsmouth Fire Chief Todd Germain in an interview with the news outlet. Shortly after seeing the smoke on the 2007 Marlow yacht, the fire chief noted, “they had to jump in the water”.
“Within minutes the boat had completely filled with smoke,” a spokesperson for Marine Patrol told USA Today.
The passengers onboard included husband and wife Arthur “Kitt” Watson, 67, and Diane Watson, 57, both from New Canaan, and the yacht’s first mate, Jarrod Tubbs, 33, from Jupiter, Florida, all of whom reportedly sustained mild hypothermia and injuries requiring treatment at the Portsmouth Regional Hospital. They were all released later Saturday afternoon.
According to the website for the yacht, Mr Watson “has been racing and cruising his whole life” and has travelled the world twice by boat, while his wife, Diane, joined the yacht Team Too Elusive in 2007 and has continued to be an active member of the team.
The pair spoke with NBC News Boston the day after their yacht, where they’d been living for the past year, went up in flames and said that it was only a matter of seconds before they made the instinct-based decision to jump in the cold Maine waters.
“It was a matter of 15 seconds from the time we smelled the smoke to the time the flames were just billowing, it was the most frightening, harrowing experience we ever had,” Mr Watson told NBC, speaking virtually from a friend’s place in Maine where the couple are staying till they can plan their next steps.
“I said, ‘grab the noodles, grab a dog, and let’s go, we gotta get off this boat,’” his wife added in the interview, before noting that there were no life vests onboard that were accessible to them at that point.
The pair said they swam as fast as they could manage in the cold waters and were, by their estimate, only about 100 yards away from the marina where they planned to dock when they jumped in the water.
“I was just scared, I thought the boat was going to blow up,” Ms Watson said. The trio and the dogs were scooped up by a local lobster fisherman, but they were in the frigid waters long enough for mild hypothermia to set in.
“Our whole lives were on that boat,” the 66-year-old sailor told NBC, adding that, “it happened so fast, it was just frightening how fast this happened.”
“It’s something you see on TV,” Ms Watson said.
The two dogs, alongside the adult passengers, were recovering well after the frightening brush with death, according to the New Hampshire State Marine Patrol.
“They are doing fine physically, but are mentally still trying to process everything,” said Amber Lagace, the spokesperson for the Marine Patrol told ABC News. “Their dogs (golden doodles) are doing well. This boat was their home.”
Flames from the burning 72-foot yacht took hours to contain and extinguish, according to the New Castle Fire Department’s statement. Several agencies and neighbouring fire crews, including the Coast Guard, the Kittery Harbor Master, the Newington Fire Department and other local police departments, assisted in extinguishing the flames before the vessel sank below the surface.
“We remain incredibly appreciative of the overwhelming support from our community,” the New Castle Fire Department wrote.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to the Portsmouth Fire Chief.
The Coast Guard, which assisted in redirecting boats away from the inferno on Saturday, continued to monitor the area where the vessel had sunk well into the day on Sunday.
A representative for the Coast Guard, Petty Officer Third Class Emma Fliszar, told the Associated Press that the agency was continuing to monitor the area for potential pollution from fuel that could’ve leaked from the sinking vessel as it went under.