Boaters escape explosion with lives, sense of humor

Boaters escape explosion with lives, sense of humor

This July 4th, Alexandria residents Elizabeth Spencer and Dave DeStefano participated in some unexpected fireworks.

The pyrotechnics were not sky-high nor were they planned. They occurred at sea level on the Chesapeake Bay, where their 30-foot powerboat unexpectedly exploded, awakening Spencer from a nap and flinging her into the water.

When I first came to, I thought I was dead, Spencer, 31, said from her Parkfairfax townhouse. I didnt know if I had been dismembered. I was concerned about what I would find when I got to the surface.

As they bobbed in the water, the boaters said they saw flames flickering from the sinking vessel, which DeStefano said exploded from mechanical problems. The Coast Guard and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources are investigating, but officials at the scene indicated that engine problems were likely the cause. 

Spencer incurred only minor injuries a soar back and left elbow for which the doctor prescribed a sling. It could have been more serious, but DeStefano dove in after her and a nearby boat responded as well, pulling the two from the water. Fireboats responded also, extinguishing the flames as the boat sunk.

We know were lucky, Spencer said. It seemed like in seconds people were there.

DeStefano, 40, suffered no injuries. After initially refusing medical help the two were taken to Ann Arundel Medical Center where they said an outpouring of goodwill occurred.

The boaters had lost a lot on the sunken vessel shoes, laptops, and wallets but strangers took off their own shoes and gave them to the shock-stricken duo. And when Spencer needed ten dollars for a co-pay at the hospital pharmacy, the pharmacist picked up the tab. All I was wearing was a bikini, Spencer said.

Me too, DeStefano joked. The kindness of strangers was a bigger deal than anything.

Almost as noteworthy as the disaster is this humbled, lighthearted reaction by the two friends whom also work together at the Washington Regional Transplant Community, an organization that coordinates organ donations for the D.C. metropolitan area. Not even a week later, the two joked about the unfortunate event in which they could have been seriously injured, or worse. 

We were almost actual organ donors this weekend, DeStefano said half-jokingly and with a tinge of irony. The initial reaction [to the incident] is safety. We know people are safe, now its time for paperwork stuff.

The cause of the explosion was mechanical, according to DeStefano, who noticed that the speedometer was not responding correctly and the throttle was acting up before the explosion. But the paperwork stuff has nothing to do with the boats manufacturer; it is too early, he said, to worry about who is at fault.

Im more worried about damage to the environment, DeStefano said. Thats a lot of stuff thats in the bay now.

On Monday, a private company reportedly recovered the wreckage, which sunk about 17 feet.

Spencer and DeStefano continued to play down the potential severity of the disaster on Tuesday by making fun of it. Spencers wallet and her laptop containing her graduate school thesis, dont matter to her. They’re just things, she said.

But as for their submerged credit cards, there will be some rockfish wearing some nice jewelry, DeStefano joked. Yeah, Spencer said. There will be lots of bling going on 17 feet under water.

The two friends began working again this week, a little sore, but with a seemingly brand new perspective on things.