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Survivors of Mobile Bay sailboat fire speak about experience

By Hal Scheurich

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    MOBILE, Alabama (WALA) — Smoke from a boat fire was visible from both sides of Mobile Bay Sunday. The three people on board the sailboat were rescued by another boater, but not before having to jump overboard and watch their vessel burn. They credit their survival with being prepared and staying calm.

“We are very lucky,” said Jason Ellison. “We are very lucky and we’re happy that all three souls are…okay.”

Ellison and two others were forced to jump from a burning sailboat Sunday afternoon. The sailboat’s owner, Scott Peck and a third person were ferrying Ellison from Sundowner Marina at Dog River to Fairhope to participate in a race. They made it about halfway across Mobile Bay when they smelled smoke. Ellison went bellow with a fire extinguisher to search out the source.

“As soon as I started pulling stuff out of the stern berth, it gave it enough oxygen that it just erupted in fire and I said, ‘Fire! Fire! Fire!’,” recalled Ellison.

The fire extinguisher did little good and what happened in the next 30 seconds or so is likely what saved all their lives. First, Ellison called 9-1-1, handed the phone to Peck and took a female passenger to the bow.

“It was probably thirty seconds from raging fire to overboard,” Peck said.

Peck, who’s an amputee and has trouble seeing has spent decades on the water and knows the importance of being prepared and staying calm in the face of diversity. Sunday, he was faced with plenty of both. The fire prevented him from getting to the bow with the other two, who’d already jumped into the water.

“They jumped off and I took my leg off because I didn’t want to lose that, and we had the 9-1-1 operator on the cell phone, so I took my leg off,” Peck said referring to his prosthetic limb. “I had my leg under my arm. I was holding the cell phone in my mouth, talking to the 9-1-1 operator.”

It was about that time Peck heard Ellison calling for a floatation device. The cabin fire had prevented them from getting to the life jackets and the female passenger couldn’t swim. Fortunately, Peck was able to throw them the Lifesling device before he jumped off the stern, holding the swim platform.

“I was very lucky that Scott tossed this overboard because it was the last thing that we had accessible, so I think that PFDs on deck is an extremely important message about that because if a fire erupts, you can’t get to them,” Ellison explained.

Multiple agencies responded, but it was a fellow boater who was first to the scene and picked up the three survivors. They said it was a young boy on that boat who saw the smoke and alerted his father who sped to the rescue. Ellison and Peck agreed, the biggest takeaway from the experience is to always be prepared and don’t panic.

The cause of the fire hasn’t been determined.

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