By Sarah Ripplinger, Nelson Daily News
24 July 2007: 1 / FRONT
‘IT COULD HAVE BEEN SO MUCH WORSE’: Massive blast rocks MV Osprey as it docks at Balfour on Sunday night; minor injuries suffered but emergency workers amazed that nobody was killed.
Four people were injured and several shaken up after a huge explosion on the MV Osprey ferry Sunday night.
The explosion – which is believed to be triggered by a propane tank in the back of a U-Haul trailer – spewed shards of glass, refrigerator pieces and food across the deck of the vessel. The incident occurred as the Kootenay Lake ferry was unloading vehicles and passengers onto the dock at Balfour.
“It was a U-Haul that exploded off the ramp and there was food everywhere… there was buns everywhere, the appliances were all exploded, there were little kids with blood all over them,” said eyewitness Pamela Bublitz.
The source of the blast was a U-Haul trailer, pulled by a white Chevy truck, containing cooking supplies that were being sold by a vendor at a nearby festival in Crawford Bay. Witnesses on board the ferry reported smelling gas, which may have been the cause of the explosion that flattened the trailer and caused severe damage to nearby cars.
“I heard this huge bang. I thought that we hit against the dock or something and… I saw a big hunk of metal flying,” said Peter Moll who was a few cars back when he heard the explosion. “To my understanding, it was propane had been leaking and it was just going onto the on ramp… and something must have set it off, like a spark… when it blew.”
Moll and Bublitz said many passengers on board believed that ferry workers had not properly checked cars for propane and other dangerous items.
Terry Walton, senior managing engineer with Western Pacific Marine Ltd. said a staff member had checked the vehicle at Kootenay Bay terminal before he was allowed on board.
“He asked the owner of the vehicle if he had any fuel on board,” Walton said, to which the driver responded that “he had no fuel, but that he did have two propane bottles that were turned off,” the maximum permitted by Transport Canada.
“The common practice is that [workers] speak with the owner/ operator of the vehicle and inform them of the regulation and that [propane tanks] must be secured and shut off and that the owner shuts the propane off,” he said.
Walton said the exact cause and nature of the blast is still under investigation by the Nelson RCMP.
“The common theory seems to be there was a leak [in the propane tanks]… that something wasn’t properly turned off and there was a leak into the trailer and then something ignited it, whether it was just a chain on the deck or whatever, as [the driver] was offloading.”
Bublitz, who is a nurse at the Trail hospital, said after seeing “flames or… a big flash” she immediately ran to the detonation site to assist any injured people.
She and two other health workers assisted two young girls suffering from minor injuries until ambulance and fire crews arrived.
One little girl sustained cuts and bruises to the head and scalp and suffered from shock, she said.
“The one little girl was covered in blood and I think the other little girl was covered in her sister’s blood, you know, because I think the blast came from the side.”
“The back window got blown out,” Bublitz added, so “their whole car got smashed with debris.
“It was such a huge explosion.”
The blast was so strong that it managed to flatten the U-Haul trailer, sending large chunks of debris into the air that cracked windshields and caused significant damage to two of the adjacent cars, one of which contained the little girls and their parents.
“There was a piece of debris, the size of the top of a little car, [similar to] the siding on a house, a piece really thick with jagged edges [that] flew through the air almost to the back of the ferry,” Bublitz said. “It could have taken off the top of a car, it was so big.”
Two ferry workers also showed signs of injury from flying debris, she said.
“One guy got, the debris hit him in the shoulder and face and then he was kind of sore, and another other guy got kind of like a blast, like his chest hurt.”
Many passengers and onlookers also experienced ringing in their ears and temporary hearing loss.
Bublitz said she and other passengers were lucky the ferry was near shore when the incident took place and that more people weren’t injured.
“It could have been so much worse,” she said.
Ambulances from Trail, Nelson and Kaslo along with firefighters and RCMP workers arrived on the scene to assist injured passengers and remove potential hazards from the area.
“We received the call about 23:02 about an explosion,” said Chris Mason, superintendent for the B.C. Ambulance Service in charge of the West Kootenay.
Passengers on board the ferry had to leave their cars and wait until emergency workers completed an inspection of the ferry and assisted victims.
“We transported three patients to the [Kootenay Lake Hospital] with non-life threatening injuries,” Mason said.
“Based on the information about the explosion, I think we were very fortunate.”
Moll said it wasn’t until about 2:30-3 a.m. before passengers were allowed to re-board the ferry and drive home.
“The one thing that was really great was the [nearby] pub there stayed open, just let everybody in there, the bakery stayed open and some local people brought coffee out to people.”
Moll said the blast shook the home of nearby residents and that there were calls from as far away as Woodbury from residents reporting hearing an explosion.
Photo: Peter Moll, Nelson Daily News / Glass was blown out of the windows of several vehicles that were parked near the U-Haul that exploded on the MV Osprey. ; Colour Photo: Peter Moll, Nelson Daily News / Debris from the U-Haul trailer was scattered across the deck of the MV Osprey after a huge explosion rocked the Kootenay Lake ferry Sunday night. Nobody was killed and the most serious injuries were sustained by two little children who were in the backseat of the Subaru wagon (top with bikes on roof). The investigation into the incident is continuing (2 photos).