Florida Keys News
Saturday, July 26, 2014
Woman crashes personal watercraft

A Michigan woman suffered severe head injuries Friday after she crashed a personal watercraft into the Channel 5 Bridge during a guided tour, law enforcement officials said.

The woman was taken to a local marina by a boater who stopped to help, and from there paramedics took her to the Marathon airport, where she was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital.

"She either lost control of the vessel or just wasn't able to operate the vessel," said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Officer Jorge Pino. "She collided with one of the pilings and ended up in the water. Apparently, she suffered very severe head injuries."

Pino didn't have the woman's name or condition at presstime Friday, but said she is about 60 years old and was on a guided tour with another man and the guide when she crashed.

The guide and the second personal watercraft rider made it underneath the Channel 5 Bridge, Pino said, before the woman crashed into the piling.

A good Samaritan stopped to pick her out of the water and take her to land.

The bridge is at Mile Marker 71, connecting Lower Matecumbe Key to Fiesta Key, above Layton.

In 2013, Monroe County was second in the number of boat accidents and fatal boat crashes with most of the accidents caused by operator inexperience, according to a state study released in May.

Monroe had five boating fatalities in 2013 out of a total of 100 crashes, the FWC reported.

None of the fatalities were on a personal watercraft, but the Florida Keys ranked second in the state for personal watercraft injuries, numbering 30 for the year out of 26 accidents. Operator inexperience was the leading cause of personal watercraft accidents.

Crashing into a fixed object -- such as a buoy or channel marker -- was the leading cause of all boating accidents in the Keys with 23 incidents.

The last few days proved dangerous for several people out on the waters surrounding the Florida Keys, in advance of spiny lobster season, which starts with the annual two-day miniseason Wednesday and Thursday. The regular commercial and recreational lobster season is Aug. 6-March 31.

FWC officers handled two water-related fatalities this week as two snorkelers died in as many days in the Upper Keys, and Friday officers were investigating a sailboat accident at the Seven Mile Bridge.

The incidents still under investigation are:

• On Wednesday, 45-year-old Gary Lanier of Kenvil, N.J., died while on a diving trip to the Spiegel Grove with his two teenage children. Lanier began having trouble as he surfaced and another diver helped him board the vessel, said sheriff's office spokeswoman Becky Herrin.

Lanier then stopped breathing and the diver began CPR. He was later pronounced dead at Mariner's Hospital.

• On Thursday, 71-year-old John Marshall of Johns Creek, Ga., died after being found facedown in the water while diving near Carysfort Lighthouse with nine others off a 25-foot private vessel, according to a sheriff's office report. FWC officers responded to the emergency, taking Marshall to shore at Ocean Key, where he was pronounced dead.

• On Friday, at least one injured person was taken to Fishermen's Hospital in Marathon after a sailboat accident just north of the hump on the Seven Mile Bridge, reports stated. At 10:14 a.m., deputies were notified that the mast of a large sailboat reportedly hit the bridge. FWC is investigating the incident.

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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