Whakatane boat fire: 'A miracle nobody was killed'

Whakatane boat fire: 'A miracle nobody was killed'

Some are calling it a miracle, while others say it was less divine but more direct intervention by the White Island tour boat crew that saved the lives of 53 passengers.

But as investigations into yesterday's blaze off Whakatane begin, some passengers say amid all that mayhem, they had difficulty getting lifejackets.

The blackened remains of PeeJay V washed ashore at Whakatane today. The burnt wood is the only evidence of the chaos that unfolded last night at sea.

"[It was] basically a miracle that nobody was killed," says Whakatane Coastguard president Jim Williamson.

The Coastguard arrived at the flaming vessel within 10 minutes. They could feel the scorching heat from 100 metres away, and were preparing for the worst.

But thanks to the quick thinking of the seven crew on board, all 53 passengers made it to shore safely.

"Without how they did it, lives probably would have been lost," says Mr Williamson.

Australian tourist Brendan Patterson says while the crew acted fast, he and his two sons weren't able to get lifejackets because they were inside the smoke-filled cabin.

"There were only 10 people, 12 people at most, who had life jackets, and they weren't able to get any more," says Mr Patterson. "Then I went, 'Uh, you know we're 1km out or whatever, and it's a bit rough. This ain't going to be pretty.'"

White Island Tours says it had 120 lifejackets onboard, mostly kept at the front and upper level, away from the flames at the stern.

"What happened was there was a large amount of smoke and it happened in seconds, and that made it difficult for the crew to get to some of the lifejackets, and they were moving the passengers at the same time to the bow of the boat," says Patrick O'Sullivan of White Island Tours.

Most passengers have carried on with their holidays, though some had trouble getting anywhere with their keys at the bottom of the sea.

Just one person spent the night in hospital and was discharged this morning.

Investigations are underway, but a decision over whether the burnt wreck will be salvaged is yet to be made.

The inquiry could take up to two years – a long time for White Island Tours to find out exactly what went wrong on board their beloved PeeJay V.

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