Australia’s maritime safety watchdog says a tourist boat carrying 28 people appears to have crashed into a rocky wall in Horizon Falls.
the main points:
- Emergency services were called to rescue 28 passengers and crew after a tourist boat crashed Friday morning
- Maritime safety personnel have completed their on-site investigation at Horizontal Falls
- The tour operator can be allowed to resume operations within weeks
The Falls Express – owned and operated by Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures – crashed shortly after 7 a.m. Friday.
The Royal Flying Doctor Service spent most of Friday evacuating patients from a remote tourist attraction, 100 kilometers north of Derby.
Nine passengers at Royal Perth Hospital remained in stable condition on Tuesday morning.
Greg Weatherall, director of national operations for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, said two inspectors had been at the remote site since late Sunday.
He said the ship appeared to have crashed into a rocky wall.
He said it did not capsize and no passengers were thrown into the water.
Mr Weatherall said the inspectors would return to Perth to continue gathering witness testimony and information before handing over the findings to a dedicated investigative team.
“I expect that in the next seven to 10 days we will have a good idea of what really happened and the events that occurred that day,” he said.
Mr Weatherall said the company could resume operations if inspectors deemed it safe to do so once the special investigation team took charge.
The safety authority had issued a direct notice to prevent the operator from using any other vessel to visit the tourist attraction pending the outcome of the investigation.
“These notifications will be lifted once we have completed our initial investigation to ensure there are no ongoing risks,” he said.
“They certainly won’t work unless all the risks or whatever we’ve identified are corrected.”
Huge mission for rescuers
Royal Flying Doctor Service emergency workers who were the first to arrive at the site said the remoteness of the site and lack of mobile reception added to the challenging task of rescuing patients.
The service set up a temporary screening area at the iron ore mine on nearby Kulan Island after deploying six aircraft, six doctors and six flying nurses to deal with the emergency.
Sally Edmunds, a doctor with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, said she had never experienced a “challenge” like a Falls horizontal crash in her 20-year career.
“I’ve seen a lot of different injuries and illnesses during my time in the Royal Flying Doctor Service, but I’ve never been floating very far on the water with more than 10 injured, which is really unusual,” she said.
Dr Edmunds said there were people on the boat and pontoon when she arrived.
“We can see that there were at least 15 people [were] I’ll need medical attention, a lot of wound dressing has already been done, the bleeding stopped, and some pain relief started.”
“There are a lot of people everywhere,” flight nurse Natalie Saunders said.
“They were seriously injured, which we probably didn’t expect,” Saunders said.
“We were expecting a lot of fractures, but not to the point where people are injured.”
She said the lack of mobile phone reception with a satellite phone was a hindrance to the rescue operation.
“We were unable to communicate with our team on the ground at Kulan Island or Gandakot Base, which made things very difficult,” Saunders said.
“This was like one of those scenarios…a boat crashed in a remote location, you have a nurse, a retired GP, a gastroenterologist and a pathologist there to help you: What are you going to do? Go!”
Investigations are underway
While Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures declined to provide any additional details about the accident, the company is offering refunds or rebooks for any customers affected by their suspension of operations.
Weatherall said the authority is due with statewide compliance agencies compiling what happened before Friday’s crash.
“In the coming days, we look forward to testing the ship’s mechanical systems to determine if they played a role in last Friday’s accident,” he said.
He said the authority will also study the prevailing weather conditions for the day and look into the backgrounds of the employees involved in the accident as part of the investigation.