Good Samaritans rescue pair after fiery boat explosion

2 hospitalized after fire on Lake Michigan at South Haven

South Haven boat fire
Black smoke rises from a boat fire near Lake Michigan's South Haven pierhead. (South Haven Area Emergency Services)

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — First responders are praising passersby as heroes after they rescued two people caught up in a fiery boat explosion on Lake Michigan Monday.

The explosion happened around 3:45 p.m. Monday near South Haven’s North Pier, according to South Haven Area Emergency Services.

Jason and Christi Assink were also out on the lake — the only other boat in sight. When they spotted thick black smoke and orange flames, they rushed to help.

“We called the Coast Guard and let them know of what was going on. And then we got closer to the boat, we could see that there were people in the water,” Jason Assink told 24 Hour News 8 Monday evening. “Neither one had a life jacket on. The female was just holding onto a dock buoy just to kind of help keep her afloat and then the male was just there helping keep her afloat, basically just treading water.”

“They didn’t have flotation devices,” Assink added. “The (woman), from what I understand, he indicated that she’s not a swimmer.”

The Assinks, both of whom have worked as first responders, threw their boat cushions and a rope to the couple in the water. Despite choppy waves, they were able to get the victims onto their boat.

They took the victims to shore. From there, an ambulance took the pair to Bronson-South Haven Hospital. The extent of their injuries has not been made public, but their conditions were stable Monday night.

>>Photos: Lake Michigan explosive boat fire

The Assinks said they were just in the right place at the right time, but first responders say they may have saved two lives.

“I think if they didn’t have flotation and it took us 10 minutes to get there and they’d already been through an explosion, depending on their level of injury, absolutely” the outcome of the incident could have been different, South Haven firefighter and paramedic David Griessel said.

“Didn’t think that they were going to last very much longer, they thought that they were goners, so I’m just thankful we were there to help them,” Christi Assink said.

Griessel was one of the first emergency responders on the scene in a SHAES fireboat used to put out the flames.

“The top half of the boat was already gone when we got there,” he said. “It was still well involved.”

“There’s a little bit of panic that comes in, but then you just kind of push that down and realize that you have a job to do and that you need to get out there and help the people,” Zachary Kenreich, another firefighter and paramedic, said.

It’s unclear what sparked the fire.