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#21455 - 07/10/06 10:08 PM O.W. boat captain dies in river crash
Marty Offline
O.W. boat captain dies in river crash

An accident on the New River in the Orange Walk district over the weekend has resulted in the death of a boat captain and left several tourists injured. Around ten on Sunday morning, Captain Vicente Avila, his sideman and a tour guide left the dock at Tower Hill with fourteen passengers and headed to the Lamanai archaeological site. But just four miles from their destination, Avila's boat crashed into another vessel and capsized. Today I travelled north to the scene while my colleague Janelle Chanona got the survivors' stories in San Pedro. And as our report will indicate, high speeds and a narrow river channel transformed a routine trip into tragedy.

Emily Smith, Accident Survivor, Mrs. Cristina
“All I remember was a big crash and all of a sudden we were in the water. I don’t remember seeing another boat or anything. It just happened really quick and the boat flipped and we all fell into the water and I remember coming up and I was under the boat and I had to swim out from under the boat and everyone else was around searching for each other.”

Joel Goering, Accident Survivor, Mrs. Cristina
“Both boats were going very fast. I don’t know what the laws are for boat licensing or driving boats but it was definitely too fast coming around the corners and then the narrow channels of the river we were on.”

Jacqueline Godwin, Reporting
Life jackets and other items from the ill fated vessel Mrs. Cristina were still floating in the area where the boat collided with the Rio Reina around eleven twenty on Sunday morning. Medical student Frank Marley was also on board Mrs Cristina, travelling to the archaeological site with visiting relatives. In the chaotic seconds following the crash, Marley took control of the casualties.

Frank Marley, Survivor, Mrs. Cristina
“First thing that comes to mind is self preservation. You’ve got to save yourself. And I was trapped under the boat, it seemed like a long time. It was probably like fifteen or twenty seconds. After I freed myself, I looked around and I saw Mr. Avila had extensive head trauma so I went over to Mr. Avila and directed a gentleman how to provide first aid by holding his brain together. And after that, I found my family and ensured that they were okay.”

Captain of the Mrs. Cristina, thirty-six year old Vicente Avila was rushed to the Orange Walk hospital but died shortly after arrival. Today personnel from the Belize Port Authority and the police visited the location to try and determine what caused the accident.

The New River is teeming with blind curves that make it very dangerous if boats are travelling at high speed through the winding waterway. Captain of the Rio Reina, Fidencio Vellos says he tried to get out of the way but it was too late.

Fidencio Vellos, Boat Captain, Rio Reina
“I slowed down. I saw he did not change direction and I put my two engines in neutral and I decided to turn totally to the right. We suffered collateral damage in the sense of trying to save, so we don’t get a collision from the other boat. Then unfortunately, they hit my boat and it flipped over.”

The Avila family strongly disagrees with Vellos’ account of the accident. Julian Avila says his twelve year old grandson, who was travelling along with his father, told them that Avila did slow down but was unable to avoid the crash.

Julian Avila, Father of the deceased
“But when Vicente saw the big boat Vicente stopped. Because Vicente is a driver of those boats and he knew those boats well because he drives them. He was in a smaller boat with a good load, so he decided to stop. When he stopped, it was a chance that “Chino”, the driver of the bigger boat saw and thought well Vicente is giving me a break that I can go fly pass him, and that was his mistake. I do not want to saw that I want anybody to be punished for what happened, but definitely it could have been avoided. The other driver should have had respect for the other driver because the two of them are good friends.”

At the time of his death, Avila was working as a contractor for Searious Adventures in San Pedro. Today Sandy and Wilfred Leslie remembered their friend.

Sandy Leslie, Co-owner, Searious Adventures
“He was just really professional. He was really safe and he was really accommodating. All my staff enjoyed working with him. He was a family man and he was expecting a baby any day. We were just looking forward to having a real good working relationship this year, this season. He was really excited about getting a new boat and he had a lot of dreams coming his way so it’s just very sad.”

Wilfred Leslie, Co-owner, Searious Adventures
“He’s very familiar with the crossing of the river. It’s why I am disappointing about it because I think he did his best according to guest and so forth. They said he did his best to try to manoeuvre out of reach, but apparently the incoming boat being much larger was a difficult form in steering. I would not recommend, and I mentioned to the captain of the boat that those boats should not be recommended for such a narrow water way because it is a very difficult to manoeuvre around the place.”

Joel Goering, Accident Survivor
“I just wanted to send my thoughts and prayers to Vicente’s family. We didn’t know him very long but he was doing a good job on the boat. And we know it must be very hard for his family. We just want them to remember that and that we are praying for the family thinking about him.”

One survivor remains hospitalized tonight suffering from back pain. Authorities are also investigating reports that the Rio Reina was racing to get its Italian passengers back to Tower Hill in time to watch the World Cup finals.

#21456 - 07/11/06 12:29 AM Re: O.W. boat captain dies in river crash
KC Offline
How horrible.
"You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."

#21457 - 07/12/06 01:03 AM Re: O.W. boat captain dies in river crash
Marty Offline
Authorities seek to prevent future river collisions
There is little that any of us can do to ease the pain suffered by the family of Vicente Avila following the boat captain's death on Sunday on the New River. But today authorities and tour operators are looking for ways to make sure that this kind of accident will never happen again.

Jacqueline Godwin, Reporting
While the Belize Port Authority and police continue to investigate the cause of Sunday morning’s fatal boat accident on the New River, many who know the river say it was a collision just waiting to happen. The New River between Tower Hill and the Lamanai Archaeological site is amaze of blind curves and narrow channels, often shaded by over grown vines and branches. Ironically the same features that make the route dangerous also make it exciting for visitors.

Julian Avila, Father of the Deceased
“There are curves every where, it is a river full of curves that is the beauty of the river. It is something that the tourists like to see when drivers are just taking the curves.”

This is the curve where the Mrs. Cristina and the Rio Reina met on Sunday. Initial reports indicate that boat captains Vicente Avila and Fidencio Vellos were travelling in opposite directions at high speed and could not avoid a collision. Vellos, who was driving the bigger vessel with twenty-seven passengers on board, contends he was not speeding but that to avoid the accident he pulled a hard right that caused the Rio Reina to ram into mangrove trees on the bank, but not before making contact with the smaller boat that flipped the Mrs. Cristina sending all of her fourteen passengers into the water.

Emily Smith, Accident Survivor, Mrs. Cristina
“It makes me very nervous and I am ready to go home now, but hopefully that will pass, and someday I will want to come back.”

Captain Vicente Avila sustained a fatal head injury caused by his boat’s propeller after he was thrown overboard. The fatality was the first of it‘s kind in the New River for this year but boat operators say that it will not be the last.

Errol Wade, Boat Captain, Lamania Eco Adventures
“It is so sad that it had to take a life. He was one of my friends. I mean we are competitors in the business, but it had to take somebody’s life for something to happen. It’s sad.”

Errol Wade, a boat captain for Lamanai Eco Adventures has been conducting tours on the river for over two decades. He strongly believes large boats like the Rio Reina are not suitable for the area, because their size makes it even more difficult to manoeuvre through the narrow winding river. Wade says there are several tributaries along the way that boat operators can use to get to the Lamanai site and he hopes the authorities will now seriously look at how they can use alternate routes to better manage the flow of traffic on the river.

Errol Wade
“We have some very narrow spots, and we have other places that we could take. I think they should implement it and make it law that we take the back rivers, because there are different places. It would only take a minute in difference to go through the back river, and it would save lives.”

Julian Avila
“Usually those boats when they are on a curve, it is not like car when you are riding on a curve that the car can sort of brakes up and take the curve as you would like to have it. The boat you cannot do that. You either have to stop or when you take the curve so fast then your boat is going to swing or it is going to slide towards the curve.”

Julian Avila believes that no matter how many alternate routes are used or signs erected the fierce competition will still cause collisions.

Julian Avila
“The river is a very dangerous river and I think it is not a matter of whether we can use other routes. Because we have been doing that, it’s a matter of how much respect we have for each other on the river. I do not see that. Because the business so demands it, you know especially the cruise ship people. If the cruise ship gets here at ten they want to be at Lamanai at eleven, eleven thirty they have their lunch and they want to be back by two, two thirty at the Tower Hill. Now that is what they do every time the cruise ships they come in, and every driver is doing that.”

Joel Goering, Accident Survivor, Mrs. Cristina
“I just ask questions about the speed on the rivers and if there should be laws with that and with our travel company. I realize that this is a very rare thing but we didn’t sign anything about there could be a danger and it might be something that they will have to look at in the future.”

It is not certain what actions will be taken to prevent another tragedy but all concerned agree that it’s sad that it took a fatality to prompt some concern.

Julian Avila
“Some of our investors are saying lets get into this business and do money right now. I do not think that that is the idea of tourism. Everybody speaks about tourism about being sustainable and as for many Belizeans as possible. Well let us do it the right way.”

Funeral services were held today for thirty-six year old Vicente Avila.

#21458 - 07/12/06 09:51 PM Re: O.W. boat captain dies in river crash
seashell Offline
If there really are alternate routes, why not make a couple of them one way each?
A fish and a bird can fall in love, but where will they build their nest?

#21459 - 07/12/06 10:18 PM Re: O.W. boat captain dies in river crash
shuffles Offline
We had two guests on that trip with Searious. They were emphatic that their boat pulled to the side and stopped, and the larger boat, traveling very fast, came through the curve, tried to pull to the side but then slid into the Searious boat. One of the girls helped tend to the captain. They reiterated what we have always thought about Searious Adventures...that Sandy and Willie were both there with all of the survivors all day at the hospital; that they remained professional and courteous and that they took care of making all their arrangements at the hospital, police station, and in arranging their flights back to San Pedro. Although they seemed almost in shock when they got back, two days later, they were out snorkeling with Searious. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Mr. Avila. We will continue to use Searious Adventures for our guests as they have never let us down.
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