Two men were rescued from a boat engulfed in flames off the Hermosa Beach coast Monday morning about 10 a.m. Neither man suffered significant injuries aside from some scrapes and bruises.
A U.S. Coast Guard vessel and Baywatch Redondo responded to the scene about a mile off the coast. When they approached, the boat was already on fire and another vessel had taken the two men on board, according Petty Officer Mark Barney with the Coast Guard media office in Long Beach.
Rick Jimenez and Alfons Von Ben Stemmen were on board the 1974 36-foot wooden trawler at the time of the fire. The two men were taking the boat to Channel Islands Harbor to do some maintenance, they said in an interview.
Jimenez was at the helm on the upper deck while Von Ben Stemmen was down below when Jimenez said he first smelled smoke. He said he put the boat into neutral to check it out and smoke was already filling the cabin.
"I ran down to get the fire extinguisher and sprayed it," Jimenez said. "By the time I went down to get the second extinguisher, it was already billowing with smoke and you couldn’t see anything."
Jimenez put out a distress call over the radio but did not hear back before the men decided to seek cover on the swim step at the rear of the vessel. Without even enough time to grab a life jacket, the men clung to the transom as two explosions rocked the vessel, blowing windows out in the cabin.
"We thought maybe the fuel tank was next," Von Ben Stemmen said. "That’s when we jumped and another boat was coming."
Andre Zietsman and his nephew Max Zietsman were fishing in the waters nearby when they spotted black smoke coming from the vessel. As the two men got closer on their 21-foot Wellcraft, they could see both victims sitting on the transom of the burning vessel without life jackets on.
“It was really hot,” Andre said. “It was a complete inferno.”
The two Good Samaritans tossed the men a pair of life jackets. Von Ben Stemmen said he had difficulty swimming and needed help from his friend.
“Eventually the Coast Guard showed up and they put out the fire,” Andre said.
As the boat was later being towed into the harbor, the vessel sunk to the bottom, Jimenez said. Palos Verdes Estates Police Department also responded to the incident.
Barney, with the Coast Guard, said since the two victims were not wearing life jackets they were lucky to have rescuers nearby.
“That’s unfortunate,” he said. “If they had gone in the water earlier, who knows how the situation could have ended up.”