Boaters swim to shore after engine fire



The Ellsworth Fire Department rescue boat (at far left) tends to a group of boaters whose vessel caught fire on July 4. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY ALLEN FENNEWALD
The Ellsworth Fire Department rescue boat (at far left) tends to a group of boaters whose vessel caught fire on July 4. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY ALLEN FENNEWALD

 

ELLSWORTH — A family of four jumped into Union River and swam ashore with flotation devices when the motor of their boat caught fire early on Fourth of July afternoon.

Matt and Kate Rechner of Los Angeles, Calif., along with children Sophia, 7, and Matthew, 4, were unharmed.

At one point, the boat stalled and its motor started flaming. That’s when Matt Rechner began to worry about a possible explosion. Kate Rechner said the fire extinguisher jammed when her husband attempted to operate it.

“Matt says to me ‘Oh no! Okay, everybody into the water!’” She and Sophie jumped in and caught Matthew, before Matt Rechner jumped.

Kate Rechner’s parents Alan and Beth Ann Lieberman remained aboard the 17-foot Bowrider, which was moored at the mouth of the river. Alan Lieberman doused the flames after unscrewing the lid of the fire extinguisher while his wife called the Ellsworth harbormaster for help on her cell phone.

Kate Rechner yelled for her parents to get in the water, but said it seemed as if they were prepared to go down with the boat until the flames were out.

“I think they kind of just figured, look if this is it, we’re together. It was pretty scary,” she said.

Sophie and Matthew seemed to be in good spirits after the ordeal, but their parents were still pumping with adrenaline on the beach.

“I thought that was the end,” Kate Rechner said.

Joshua and Jennifer Torrance arrived to help in their boat as Alan Lieberman was able to put out the flames.

The boat drifted toward the eastern shore. Residents Edward and Linda MacLeod smelled smoke before getting in their boat to help while the family neared shore.

Beth Ann Lieberman also called Melody Reed. She and Linda Greenlaw helped coordinate a rescue effort before realizing the danger had subsided.

MacLeod offered to drive the family to the Ellsworth marina, where the Ellsworth Fire Department (EPD) towed the boat and the Liebermans on its rescue Zodiac.

“Everybody is fine. Nobody was injured and it turned out as best it could have,” said EPD Lieutenant Daryl Clark. EPD responded by rescue boat and fire truck, but the fire was out by the time the department arrived. Marine Patrol also responded to the scene.

The family had recently purchased a new marine-grade Walmart battery for the boat and think it may have short circuited and caused the fire.

“Just a few minutes prior we were admiring the bald eagles flying overhead,” Matt Rechner said as the kids went into the MacLeod house to get dry.

Allen Fennewald

Intern at The Ellsworth American
Allen is an intern for Out & About Magazine and a University of Missouri graduate student, studying investigative and convergence journalism. He was formerly a long-form community beat writer and sports editor/page designer for the Columbia Missourian.

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