Bay police chief: "I'm surprised that nobody was killed"

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - There are a lot of unanswered questions about a Sunday night boating accident in St. Louis Bay. According to the Mississppi Department of Marine Resources, six Louisiana residents and one person from Mississippi were heading out on a fishing trip late that night when their boat slammed into a concrete piling.

As the vessel capsized, the seven passengers scrambled to find ways to survive until help arrived. One of those passengers suffered injuries that required him to be airlifted to a hospital away from the coast. His name is not being released yet. And neither are the names of the other six people involved in the overnight accident.

The first person to reach them last night was Bay St. Louis police chief Tom Burleson. He was on his own family fishing trip to Cat Island. As it was wrapping up, Burleson noticed flashing lights on top of the St. Louis Bay Bridge. He called his office, and was told about a boat sinking in St. Louis Bay.

"So I launched at the yacht club and came out in my boat. And when I got out there, three individuals were still in the water with a dog," Burleson said.

Four others were sitting on a concrete slab at the base of the bridge.

The Bay St. Louis Police Chief was the first law enforcement officer to reach the accident scene.

"When I got to the bridge, I could see the people in the water. And my first concern was get the people out of the water and get them up on the pillar," he remembered.

The 68 degree water temperature made rescue time critical.

"The people were distraught. A couple of them were in shock, freezing," Burleson said.

The chief saw one person with a bleeding jaw. Another had blood on her face. A third had some sort of back injury.

"Get out there and try to save who we could save. That was my main concern, get people out of the water," he said.

Twelve hours after the mishap, Burleson stood on top of the bridge, and looked down toward the water. From that perch, he could see the damaged boat submerged in the bay, almost 80 feet below.

"I'm surprised that nobody was killed," said the chief.

The Department of Marine Resources is the lead agency investigating the boating accident. One of the issues its investigators will analyze is whether navigation lights in the St. Louis Bay channel were working. However, until an official report is ready, the DMR will not release specific details about why the boat slammed into a St. Louis Bay bridge piling.