‘They got slung to the side of the boat:’ Body cameras reveal captains’ interviews after Wild Florida airboats crash

20 injured in Aug. 14 incident

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – Captains of two Wild Florida airboats that collided on Cypress Lake in August told investigators they did not see the other boat coming until it was too late.

Twenty people were injured when the boats operated by Wild Florida collided on Aug. 14.

Interviews with both captains were recorded that same day using body cameras worn by investigators with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The cameras also captured at least one patient being transported to a hospital, strapped to a backboard, and other passengers waiting in the shade of a tree to give their statements to investigators.

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Inside, FWC investigators met with Captain Tim Debrecht, a former firefighter who said he had started working at Wild Florida last October.

He said he was driving the “Cypress 3″ airboat when the crash happened on the west side of Cypress Lake near a canal that connects it with Lake Tohopekaliga.

“I was coming around this,” he was heard telling investigators, “kind of making a curve on this side of the island there, and I looked across the canal to cut over here to see if anybody’s coming. I didn’t see anybody. So, I started to accelerate to make the turn. As I started to make the turn, I saw the boat there… I cut the rudders the other way, but I don’t think I was going fast enough for it to respond quick enough, so it just slowly started to turn.”

“And he hit the side of you?” the FWC investigator asked.

“Yeah,” he responded. “I think I had all the injuries. They got slung to the side of the boat.”

The FWC investigator said the boat’s high railings “definitely helped” the situation.

Investigators next questioned Captain Todd Braden, who said he had been with Wild Florida for six years.

He said he was driving the “Cypress 2,” and was not moving very fast.

“When you noticed that he was coming toward you, did you… were there movements that you made to try and avoid?” asked one of the investigators.

“I went right into the cat tails,” Braden responded on the video. “In hindsight, I would have barreled off way out there, and I figured he would see me any minute.”

The U.S. Coast Guard has taken the lead on the investigation because the crash involved two commercial vessels.

A spokesperson told News 6 on Friday they were still investigating, but the agency has previously confirmed Wild Florida has resumed its airboat tours.

Wild Florida issued a statement after the crash apologizing to their guests and pledging cooperation with the investigation:

“Today at Wild Florida, two airboats collided while doing routine tours, resulting in passenger injuries. First, we would like to apologize to all visitors involved and pray for a speedy recovery for all injured parties.

We are cooperating fully with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Coast Guard and other state and local authorities as they conduct an official investigation of the incident. We are also conducting our own internal investigation to determine the cause of the incident. Wild Florida prides itself on not just having U.S. Coast Guard-approved airboats but also hiring licensed Master Captains who elevate our safety protocols.

We also want to extend our added gratitude to the many Wild Florida staff members and rescue teams from Osceola County EMS, St. Cloud Fire Rescue, and the Osceola County Sheriff's Department for their swift response.

At this time, all airboat activities at Wild Florida are suspended until further notice.”

Wild Florida, Aug. 14, 2023

News 6 asked Wild Florida for an additional comment on Friday, it has not yet responded.

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About the Author:

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013 and became an Investigator in 2020. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.