Australia’s Maritime Safety Watch said a tourist boat carrying 28 people appeared to have crashed into a rock face at Horizontal Falls.
- Emergency services were called to rescue 28 passengers and crew after a tour boat crashed on Friday morning
- Marine Safety personnel have completed their on-site investigation at Horizontal Falls
- The travel agency could be authorized to resume its activities within a few weeks
The Falls Express – owned and operated by Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures – crashed just after 7am on Friday.
The Royal Flying Doctor Service spent most of Friday evacuating patients from the remote tourist attraction, 100km north of Derby.
Nine passengers remained in Royal Perth Hospital in stable condition on Tuesday morning.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s national operations manager, Greg Witherall, said two inspectors had been at the remote site since Sunday evening.
He said the ship appeared to have crashed into a rock face.
He said he did not capsize and no passengers were thrown into the water.
Mr Witherall said inspectors would return to Perth to continue gathering testimony and information before handing over the findings to a specialist investigative team.
“I anticipate that in the next seven to ten days we should have a pretty good idea of what really happened and what happened that day,” he said.
Mr Witherall said the business could resume operations if inspectors deemed it safe to do so once the special investigation team took over.
The safety authority had issued a direct notice to prevent the operator from using any other vessel to visit the tourist attraction pending the outcome of the investigation.
“These advisories will be lifted once we complete our preliminary investigation to ensure there are no ongoing risks,” he said.
“They certainly won’t work until all the risks, or whatever we’ve identified, are fixed.”
Huge task for rescuers
Royal Flying Doctor Service rescuers who were first on the scene said the remote location and lack of mobile reception added to the difficult task of rescuing patients.
The service set up a temporary triage area at the nearby Koolan Island iron ore mine after deploying six aircraft, six doctors and six flight nurses to deal with the emergency.
Royal Flying Doctor Service doctor Sally Edmonds said she had not seen a “challenge” like the Horizontal Falls crash in her 20-year career.
“I saw a lot of different injuries and illnesses during my time with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, but I’ve never been on a lone pontoon on the water with more than 10 injured, it’s really amazing,” said she declared.
Dr Edmonds said there were people on the boat and the pontoon when she arrived.
“We could see that there were at least 15 people who [were] going to need medical attention, a lot of work has already been done to dress the wounds, stop the bleeding and start to relieve the pain,” she said.
Flight nurse Natalie Saunders said there were “lots of people everywhere”.
“They had significant injuries, which we probably didn’t expect,” Ms Saunders said.
“We expected a lot of broken bones, but not enough to hurt people.”
She said a lack of mobile reception with only one satellite phone was a hindrance to the rescue.
“We couldn’t communicate with our team on the ground on Koolan Island or the Jandakot base, which made things quite difficult,” Ms Saunders said.
“It was like one of those scenarios… a boat crashed in a remote location, you have a nurse, a retired GP and a gastroenterologist and a pathologist there to help you: what would you do? you go !”
While Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures declined to provide additional details about the accident, the company is offering refunds or rebookings to all customers affected by their suspension of operations.
Mr Witherall said the authority would be helpful for state-level compliance agencies to piece together what happened before Friday’s crash.
“In the next few days we will be looking to have the mechanical systems of the vessel tested to determine if they played a role in last Friday’s accident,” he said.
He said the authority would also look at prevailing weather conditions on the day and review the backgrounds of personnel involved in the incident as part of the investigation.