This Ballina man escaped his 12m yacht when it exploded six nautical miles off Ballina yesterday.
This Ballina man escaped his 12m yacht when it exploded six nautical miles off Ballina yesterday. Doug Eaton

Elderly sailor lucky to escape exploding yacht

IT WAS a jittery walk along the small pier at the back of the Ballina Jet Boat Surf Rescue base for a 77-year-old yachtie yesterday.

But it was one he was extremely lucky to be able to make after the 12m yacht he was sailing in was ripped apart in a massive explosion when it was six nautical miles off the coast of Ballina.

The lone sailor, who asked police to withhold his name, managed to escape the yacht he called home in an inflatable rubber dinghy powered by a small outboard moments before the powerful blast destroyed his vessel, leaving nothing to salvage but floating debris.

The man, who has lived at Ballina for a couple of years, could not hold back the tears as he sat in the ambulance while paramedics checked him over before he was taken to Ballina Hospital suffering shock.

He had sailed through the Ballina bar that morning, checking in with the coast guard tower and indicating he was only going for a short cruise.

He stepped back on to dry land at Ballina with bare feet and his home gone.

He was too distraught to talk to the media.

Inspector Greg Moore, of Ballina police, said the explosion had been reported to police at 9.20am by other vessels at sea, and the Ballina flotilla of the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard and the Ballina Jet Boat Surf Rescue were alerted. A police officer travelled to the scene of the accident on the jet boat.

Insp Moore said it was believed the explosion was caused by a cooking fire in the yacht’s galley, but investigations into the exact reason were still continuing.

Insp Moore said the yachtie was lucky to escape and praised his efforts in getting clear of his vessel before it exploded.

“The boat disintegrated in the explosion,” he said.

Garry Meredith, captain of the volunteer Ballina Jet Boat Surf Rescue crew, said two other vessels were at the scene when the jet boat got there, and the man had been taken on board one of them.

He was then transferred to the jet boat for the 10-minute trip back to Ballina.

Northern NSW Lifeguard co-ordinator, Stephen Leahy, said the explosion must have been very large for ‘a boat to be destroyed so fast and so violently’.

“He’s (the yachtie) obviously very upset. Upset that his home has been destroyed,” he said.

He said lifeguards on duty at Shelly Beach had seen the plume of smoke out to sea after the explosion. Mr Leahy said calm seas made the rescue easier.

The man’s escape craft – the rubber dinghy – also was brought back to Ballina on the jet boat.
 


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