WEST ISLIP, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — There was a close call off the waters of Long Island this week, when the U.S. Coast Guard had to rescue a group of teenagers when their boat engine caught fire.
As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, the boat engine fire broke out around 10 p.m. Wednesday in the Great South Bay. The evening boat ride turned into a major scare for the five teenagers, and left their parents worried at home.
The kids saw the flames coming out of the engine, and boating safety training kicked in.
“I was tracking him on my iPhone,” Thomas Clarson said of his son, who was skippering on the boat. “And I saw where he was. I knew right away — he got into shallow water. He’s stuck.”
Clarson, of Dix Hills, got on the phone with his son, Cody, who had four other teens onboard the family speedboat with him.
They had run into shallow waters near the Robert Moses Causeway Bridge, and the engine was getting alarmingly hot.
“He’s like, ‘Dad, you know, it’s hot, it’s stuck, and he goes, ‘Oh no, I see fire!’” Thomas Clarson said.
Clarson instructed the teens essentially to abandon ship.
“I go: ‘Go get the life jackets immediately. Get in the water — nothing else,’” Clarson said.
Clarson then called 911. The Coast Guard said Clarson executed the steps perfectly.
“Being that there were flames and they had life preservers, and once again, shallow water was the best thing. They could just walk right off and stay nearby,” said P.O. Stephen Jordan of the U.S. Coast Guard Station Fire Island.
Coast Guard rescuers found the five boys in the dark in waist high water, with the help of night vison goggles, a police chopper, and the boys’ smartphones on flashlight mode.
“I complimented them on their actions to get their iPhone out,” said Kyle Profit of the U.S. Coast Guard Station Fire Island. “It’s not the first time I’ve seen that, but it definitely – you know, any little bit helps, especially that dark night.”
The boys, ages 14 to 19, were brought safely to shore while the West Islip Fire Department doused the flames.
West Islip Fire Chief Robert Bilella got a thank you from Clarson. The fire never spread, but officials said it certainly could have.
“A lot of gas and fumes inside a boat, so it could explode,” Bilella said.
The 27-foot speed boat is dry docked, and its engine has been destroyed. Clarson said the boys — two of them his sons — were embarrassed for running aground.
But he told them they did everything right when it mattered most.
“I feel very lucky,” Clarson said. “I don’t care anything about the boat. I’m blessed. I’m just glad the kids are all right.”
Coast Guard officials said it is a good time to remind boaters always to have a fire extinguisher on board. The Clarson family boat did have one, but father and sons were taking no chances.