9 saved from burning boat; baby set afloat in ice chest

Pleasure boat sinks after electrical fire

Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Members of a Ketchikan family saved their baby by putting him in a cooler when their boat caught fire and sank Sunday.

"We couldn't get all the life jackets because the cabin was engulfed (in flames). We could only get five, and we put them on the kids and me," said Diane Daniels of Ketchikan. "We put my baby inside an ice chest; my husband held onto the handle. I don't know if the baby would have survived very long."

Help arrived quickly after the boaters put out a radio distress call from the 34-foot Dry Heat at 8:46 a.m., reporting the fire near Streets Island, 24 miles north of Ketchikan.

Good Samaritans aboard two vessels, the Show Girl from Salmon Falls Resort and the Sheltered Seas from Sportsman's Cove Lodge, arrived first and took the nine uninjured boaters aboard. A Coast Guard Station Ketchikan rescue boat crew also headed to the scene, arriving at 9:41 with firefighting equipment.

The ferry Matanuska was passing nearby and stopped to see if it could render aid, said Leon Curry, 70, a Florida tourist headed to see Ketchikan as part of a visit to his son in Juneau.

"When we turned around, by the time I saw it, the whole boat was on fire," Curry said. "I saw it burn to the water."

Rescuers took the families to Sportsman's Cove Lodge while the Coast Guard crew battled the blaze. The boat sank in 200 fathoms of water at 10:10 a.m.

The four adults rescued were Dugan and Diane Daniels and Diane's brother Roy Blair and his wife Sandy. The five children rescued were Dylon Daniels, 9; Dawson Daniels, 1; Brooke Simmons, 5; Carly Blair, 4; and Allison Blair, 2.

"We believe the cause was electrical," said Diane Daniels, owner with her husband of the pleasure craft. "It was in the engine compartment of the two inboards, and it caught the gas hoses on fire. A Fiberglas and wood boat won't ever be on our shopping list again, that's for sure."

Roy Blair can't swim, and was holding onto a second cooler to keep afloat. Fortunately, Daniels said, the boat from Sportsman's Cove Lodge arrived in 15 to 20 minutes. A second boat from Salmon Falls Resort picked up her, her children, and her brother.

"They took us to the lodge, where there were hot showers and blankets. They washed our clothes and gave us hot soup and hot chocolate. They were wonderful," Daniels said. "My husband was treated at the hospital and released for smoke inhalation (suffered while retrieving life jackets), but otherwise there were only bruises. It was a good story in the end."

The Dry Heat carried about 150 gallons of diesel fuel, and the Coast Guard crew reported seeing an oil sheen of about 50-by-50 yards.

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