People rescued from yacht on fire for four hours: ‘I thought it was going to explode'

(Mike Nowak)
Updated: Nov. 1, 2018 at 10:54 PM EDT
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Two people were rescued after yacht catches on fire on Intracoastal Waterway.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Two people were rescued and barely escaped from a yacht in the Intracoastal Waterway after a fire got out of control on Thursday afternoon.

Nobody was injured, but the 50-foot Prestige motor yacht burned for four to five hours and is a total loss. An investigation is underway.

Angie Benincasa was fishing in the waterway near Myrtle Grove Sound at about 1:30 p.m. when she heard a yacht horn blaring for five minutes.

"Then we began to see some smoke pouring out," said Benincasa.

She called 911 after realizing the people aboard were in danger.

“I thought it was going to explode,” said Benincasa. “I saw two people scattering around on the boat, trying to collect their belongings and they were probably on the boat a good 15 minutes while it was on fire.”

When the call for help went out over the radio, Matt Wild was listening. He's the owner and captain of TowBoatU.S., a marine towing and salvage company.

Wild said he heard a report of an engine fire and responded.

“I was there within about 10 minutes or so,” said Wild. “It quickly went from a small fire to one that engulfed the entire boat.”

Wild steered his tow boat next to the burning yacht and threw a line to the two passengers. They rushed to try and put out the flames with fire extinguishers, but the fire was growing too quickly.

"We quickly learned that we did not have time. A window popped. The fire really took off," said Wild. "I don’t even think he grabbed his shoes."

Wild captured cell phone video of the burning yacht once they were about 100 feet safely away.

“Even the dingy that was on the back of the boat was starting to melt. It was very intense,” said Wild.

About 15 minutes later, emergency crews from Carolina Beach and Wilmington arrived and began to spray water on the yacht, attempting to control the blaze.

The boat burned and continued smoldering until about 5:30 p.m., according to a WECT reporter on the scene.

The two men aboard the yacht told Wild and Benincasa they were professional captains transporting the boat for its owner from Staten Island, N.Y., to Florida.

“They are professional captains. They were calm and collected, but they were a little rattled," Wild said. "I think all of us were on edge. Everybody’s adrenaline started going.”

A firefighter on the scene said that the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission is investigating the incident. The two men aboard the yacht were not available for an interview and were transported in a New Hanover County Fire vehicle.

WECT has reached out the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission for more information and are waiting to hear back.

Benincasa said the yacht operators told her an electrical problem started the fire.

"The fire itself, you could see flames for a good 4-5 hours until it got down to the water line," said Benincasa.

The charred remains of the yacht will be removed from the Intracoastal Waterway on Friday morning, said Wild.

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