On Thursday night, we left you with the story about a boat that caught on fire in the hanger area near the Belize City Municipal Airstrip. Four men were heading out to Saint George’s Caye to drop off items for their return Easter holiday on Friday. As the boat started and launched it burst into flames. The blast sent three of the men overboard leaving only the boat captain, fifty-nine year old Romaldo ‘Romi’ Badillo onboard. Thirty-four year old George Gonzalez, also received burns to the body while the other two, forty-one year old Wallace Flowers and fifty-two year old Stephen Bradley escaped mostly unhurt. News Five spoke with veteran boat builder and owner of the skiff, Stephen Bradley. Andrea Polanco has the story.
Andrea Polanco, Reporting
This is the boat that was heading to St. George’s Caye on Holy Thursday afternoon. But it didn’t reach its destination. Just minutes after it launched, there was a loud explosion and fire erupted on board Ms Din’s. Of the four passengers, Romi Badillo Senior was the most injured. Stephen Bradley, owner of Miss Din, was also in the boat.
Stephen Bradley, Boat Builder
“We launched the boat. I reversed. I started the engine which was no problem; it’s a brand new engine with thirty seven hours of use. I remove the boat from the trailer by reversing it off. I had instructed my helper; my supervisor Eduardo Zelaya to park my truck and the trailer on the side where the launch ramp is and in the process of parking my truck by the seawall to pick him up, there was just a loud bang and the boat exploded instantly. This was about probably four minutes after we started the engine.”
That bang led to this fire onboard the boat. Within seconds, the flames were high and thick smoke covered the area. The impact of the explosions threw two passengers overboard. Bradley recounts the terrifying experience.
“One of my guys, Wallace Flowers, one of my workers got thrown into the sea. The other guy George Nicholas Gonzalez, his legs caught on fire and he jumped out. Unfortunately Mr Badillo was thrown forward and he was lying in a, as far as I could tell, a semi-conscious state and I was trying to get him to get up because of the position of where the flames were I couldn’t pick him up and throw him over the side. I was trying to get him to get up and at one instance I remember trying to lash the fire on his right leg to keep it from not burning anymore; I failed at that. There was a secondary explosion and I was looking around me on my left to see where there was another boat in the water to pick up people to see if I can get the boat to come along and help us. The secondary explosion threw me out the boat; it felt like somebody hit me in my chest without somebody touching me. It was a bit hard for me to get back in the boat and by this time the entire front of the boat was on flame. When I went to the back of the boat where there was a swim deck to get on, I could see Mr Badillo did like a big exercise push up and just rolled over the side of the boat and into the sea. The other boat was near enough and they threw a life jacket and I picked it up. I got closer to Romi and I gave him the life jacket to hold on to. I couldn’t hold him from his upper body because he was so badly burnt and he was in pain at that point and still it seemed that he would go under so I grabbed him by the pants waist and put him closer to me so he can hold on to my shoulder. I kept him on to me and we kept bobbing up and down and I managed to drag myself closer to the rescue boat.”
Romaldo Badillo Sr.
Two of the men were taken to the hospital. Badillo has since been transferred to Guatemala City for medical treatment. The seasoned sea man suffered second degree burns.
“I spoke with his young brother who is with him, his wife and daughter who are in Guatemala City just at midday by telephone. The burns that were initially considered to be third degree were downgraded to second degree after treatment and some surgical procedures where they removed quite a bit of the burnt skin. As of midday today I was told by his brother that it is second degree and he is very much sedated; it’s an induced sedation so as to avoid the pain when he is conscious. I think last Friday was the last time he was speaking. Romi is going to pull through and anyone who knows him will tell you he is tough.”
“The other two men, did they escape largely unhurt?”
“Fortunately for Mister Wallace Flowers he only sustained five or six stitches over his left eye and he was released from the hospital that same afternoon. George Gonzalez is still in the hospital and will remain there for at least a month to avoid the risk of getting infection because the burns on his hand and left leg are being considered as secondary and on the right hand and right leg as firs degree burns.”
Bradley says they are fortunate to be alive today.
“To be here today to say that Romi, George, Wallace and I survived an incident like that, I would say that we are extremely lucky; extremely, extremely lucky.”
The boat and equipment onboard were totally destroyed; all valued at around sixty thousand dollars. Reporting for News Five, I am Andrea Polanco.