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Passengers injured in Sumter County airboat crash

Mechanical error blamed for crash on Lake Panasoffkee

SUMTER COUNTY, Fla. – Fifteen people were rescued from an airboat Tuesday morning after it crashed on Lake Panasoffkee, according to Sumter County Fire Rescue.

The boat is owned by Tom and Jerry's Airboat Rides. 

Chad Weber of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said the agency received a call about the crash at 10:30 a.m.

Weber said the victims were alert when they arrived. 

"Everyone was off the boat and we had fire rescue, EMS personnel treating the ones who were injured,"  Weber said. "We talked to a few of the people who were on board and we are still conducting interviews at the hospitals."

Sumter County's fire chief said another boat went in to rescue the fifteen people on board the airboat that crashed. 

Of the 15 people on board, two passengers were children. Nine people were taken to the hospital, Sumter County Fire Rescue said. 

It's unclear how many people were injured. Sumter County Fire Rescue said 14 people were injured, while Weber said not all the passengers suffered injuries.

"It's a passenger-style airboat. It has, like, stadium seating, like, a bunch of rows of seats in the front, and there's a helm for the driver in the rear," Weber said.

The airboat was pulled out of the water just after 2 p.m. Tuesday. Its front bumper was slightly damaged.

News 6 spoke with Kim Peeler, the manager at Tom and Jerry's Airboat Rides, who said the steering cable on the boat broke. 

Once that breaks, she said it's difficult to control the boat, which caused it to hit a cypress knee in the water. 

The jolt from the impact pushed passengers forward. 

Peeler said no one was ejected and that the accident was due to mechanical error and not driver error. 

She said the boats were inspected last month by the U.S. Coast Guard and passed. 

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families," Peeler said. 

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the crash.