Incident appears accidental
By Kristin Will
SOUTH HADLEY – An early morning boat fire near Titans Pier forced five young occupants to jump ship into the Connecticut River Thursday.
South Hadley Police Lt. Steven Parentela happened to be fishing on the river at that time. “I was down river near Bachelor’s Brook when I looked up river and saw something reflecting off of a boat,” he said. “And then all of a sudden, the fog looked like smoke. I put down my fishing reel, headed up river, saw the fire and two heads bobbing in the water,” said Parentela. He raced to the individuals and pulled them from the water into his own boat, bringing them to shore. Three other individuals, he said, were swimming ashore close to the shore.
The boat sat in the middle of the river, “burning worse and worse,” said Parentela. “Things were exploding. There was nothing we could do, it was burning really bad.”
At the same time Parentela was fishing, Carl Bey of Fire District No. 2 was doing the same. Fire District No. 2 Chief David Keefe said Bey also raced to the area and contacted Fire District No. 2 Assistant Chief Todd Calkins, who responded to the scene in his personal boat as well. Calkins then directed the rescue operation from the river. Fire District No. 1 also responded with their department’s rescue boat.
The boat’s occupants, in their early to mid twenties, escaped injury. One man had the hair on his legs burned off, said Keefe, and a burn equivalent to a sunburn. The man refused medical treatment.
In speaking to the male owner of the boat, Keefe said the owner turned on the ignition and heard a popping noise. He tried again and then opened the engine compartment where he discovered flames. “He got very concerned there was the potential for an explosion, so he told everyone to jump overboard and swim ashore,” said Keefe. “It was definitely a good move on his part; he was a smart young man. Basically he just said, ‘forget my boat, everybody get out of here,’ which they did.”
The occupants were wearing personal floatation devices or had immediate access to some.
The Massachusetts Environmental Police arrived on scene to investigate the incident with the South Hadley police and fire departments. Keefe believes the incident is an accident.
The burned boat, which drifted down the river to the Holyoke side just south of the power plant where it got hung up on rocks, will be pulled to shore by Brunelle’s Marina, under contract with the Environmental Police, where it will be looked over and investigated.