Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Fire At Sea - A Cruising Yacht Burns

Our friend Laszlo Torok is recovering from significant burns after a fire engulfed his cruising boat, 11 nautical miles off the east Australian coast, near Surfers Paradise.

Television news showed the fire destroying the yacht, which eventually sank in 65 meters of water. Check the video here.  Laszlo tells me he is recovering and will be 100% in a few months, but he is obviously a very lucky sailor.

Wanting to learn from this tragedy, I asked Laszlo what caused the fire - was it a propane leak, or an electrical failure ?

Laszlo believes it was probably a faulty high pressure fuel injector pipe on the diesel engine, spraying a fine mist of diesel that eventually ignited.  He tells me that commercial trawlers have suffered similar fates in the past year or so on that coast.  His center cockpit vessel had space for storage in the engine room, so he did have solvents and fuels stored in there.


When he first noticed the black smoke in the engine room he launched the dinghy and his emergency containers overboard. He shut the engine down and with everything locked down he was trying to dampen the fire through lack of oxygen.

Now Laszlo tells his story :

"Then, from the dinghy in the water I looked and it seemed all not so bad. Not seeing flames only smoke.  I do not know what I was thinking.... or not thinking..... but I opened main cabin door.  The pressure of a leaping fire ball hit me....I raised my hands to protect my face, my sun glasses saved my eyes but pressure pushed them off. I jumped to the dinghy. Right on top of a jerry can of petrol.... My clothing was on fire ! Both my arms, skin hanging down from the burns. I was stuffed !!!!"
But Laszlo didn't faint, and a nearby fishing boat came alongside to help him.  The crew put ice on his burns and moved him ashore within the hour.  He was rushed to hospital for extensive treatment.  Lazlo tells me a Navy expert has since advised him that when trying to suffocate a fire the hatches should remain closed for at least 24 hours .... he opened them after 10 minutes, a near fatal mistake.

Laszlo is recovering slowly and will recover 100%,  though as he says, burns take time and effort even after you are out of hospital. We wish him a speedy and complete recovery.

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