Thursday, August 12, 2004


A SALVAGE man is being hailed a hero after an explosion ripped through a small boat off Falmouth Yacht Marina, seriously injuring a father and his nine-year-old son. Both suffered severe burns.
Dennis Cooper swung into action after a massive fireball ripped through the 18-foot motor cruiser High Interest with the 51-year-old man from Leedstown and his son on board.
Dennis, who works for Sea-Wise Services Ltd, was just tucking into his lunch on Tuesday when there was a huge bang and the boat nearby went up in a ball of fire, engulfing the pair on board in flames and throwing them into the water. They were immediately picked up in a boat by two employees of Falmouth Marina, Cyril Harris and Mark Dash, and taken to shore for treatment by paramedics who were on scene in five minutes.
Dennis pulled up his boat right alongside the blazing craft without regard for his own safety. For 15 minutes he fought the blaze on his own with fire-fighting equipment he had on board and put out the flames. He said he was just trying to make sure the fire didn't spread.
"I just heard a big bang," said Mr Cooper, who lives in Truro. "I turned around and saw the explosion and people jump out of the side into the water.
"I saw the Falmouth Marina boys in the launch pick them up. I cast off and drew up alongside the boat which was ablaze from the cabin to the stern. The heat was very intense - it was really hot. But I was worried the fire would spread to other boats so I used the equipment I had on board to fight it. I was upwind of the fire so I didn't think I was in danger but it was very hot.
"I didn't know if there was anyone else on board and I wanted to put it out before it set anyone else on fire."
His employer, Dougie Rowe, was full of praise. "He was marvellous," said Mr Rowe. "He thought very quickly and did what he had to do."
The drama unfolded in the Penryn River on Tuesday afternoon. At around 2pm witnesses described hearing a massive explosion and seeing a fireball shoot 15 feet in the air. Eyewitness Mary Fletcher of Delta Marine Services said: "I just heard a big bang and saw the engine box fly out the back and there were flames followed by smoke. The father yelled at the boy to jump and he flew out of the side and was followed by the father.
"Dougie Rowe's boy was an absolute star. He was very brave going so close to a seriously burning boat to put out the fire. The flames were 15 feet in the air - it could be seen for a long way.
"When they got the casualties back to shore the boy was crying and the father was in shock."
Boat owner David Yendle described seeing the father jumping out of the boat, surrounded by a ball of flame.
Police, fire and ambulance as well as a rescue helicopter from RNAS Culdrose and the Falmouth inshore and offshore lifeboats were called to the scene of the explosion after initially receiving reports of five to six casualties.
The first crews were on the scene within five to six minutes to treat the casualties who were then taken to the Dracaena Avenue playing fields where the helicopter was waiting to take them to hospital. The boy suffered 50 per cent burns in the accident and the father 30 per cent. Both were later taken to the specialist burns unit at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol where the father's condition was described as stable while his son was described as "poorly but stable".
The boat was towed to Ponsharden park and ride by the inshore lifeboat because it was in danger of sinking. There it was examined by fire officers. Initial findings appear to point to a fuel leak as the cause of the fire.
PC Sharon Newman of Devon and Cornwall Police said: "After the two people were treated, the concern was that other family members might have been also on the boat. We later confirmed that there was no one else on board.
"We treated the area to start with as a crime scene and it was cordoned off. But the decision has been made to have it investigated by the fire service. The Marine Accident Investigation Branch has also been contacted."
The owners of the boat had rented moorings from John Kulpa at Trevissome Marine for just a year.
Mr Kulpa said he only met them a few times but said they were "very nice people".

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