If the wind would have got it and pushed it onto the rocks, … I was actually more concerned they would end up on the rocks and then the boat would get pushed up and people could get injured pretty seriously right there. —American Fork Fire Capt. Ben Anderson
AMERICAN FORK — They thought they would just be testing their new boat.
Instead, American Fork Fire Capt. Ben Anderson and firefighter Josh Rich ended up putting their department's new rigid-hulled inflatable boat to actual use Monday when they witnessed a ski boat with seven children become swamped on Utah Lake, right in front of them.
"As soon as they turned into the harbor, a wave came over the back, stalled out their motor, swamped their boat, they started to sink," Anderson said.
The incident happened about 7:30 p.m. outside the American Fork Boat Harbor. A storm was developing with sustained winds of 20 to 30 mph, creating 5- to 6-foot swells on the lake, Anderson said.
There were four adults and seven children on board, including an infant. All of the children had life jackets on.
"There were three or four that were just floating in the water that we had to pick 'em up and pull them in. They were holding on to debris that had come out of the boat," Anderson said.
The firefighters sprang into action and quickly provided a tow-rope to the boaters and attempted to pull the swamped ski boat ashore. But about 20 yards from the shore, the line failed.
"At that point, the boat started going under. So we turned (our) boat around and started transferring kids onto our boat," he said.
The biggest concern was the possibility waves would push the ski boat against the rocks on shore.
"If the wind would have got it and pushed it onto the rocks, I was actually more concerned they would end up on the rocks and then the boat would get pushed up and people could get injured pretty seriously right there," Anderson said.
While the boat did not completely sink, only the wakeboarding rack and bow remained out of the water.
The American Fork firefighters had called for help from the State Parks Service and Utah County Sheriff's search and rescue. Eventually, the boat was pulled out of the water. There were no serious injuries.
Normally, the state handles all boat rescues on Utah Lake. But state officials were busy towing other boats at the time due to the storm.
"It was just fortunate we were in the right place at the right time. It was just coincidence we were out there," Anderson said. "It was the luck of the draw we ended up being out there.
"Had they been out in open water and had to wait for people to get there, especially with those kids, even in life preservers, it could have been tragic. They could have lost lives out there."
The incident was a good reminder, Anderson said, for all ski boat owners not to delay getting off the lake at the first sign of a storm.
"As soon as you see those storm clouds coming up over the mountain, it's a good idea to get your boat in, because those ski boats sit so low to the water that it doesn't take a lot to get swamped," he said.