Chaos on Lake Union hot tub boat ends in finger pointing

A hot tub boat adventure among friends ended with a 911 call, while the passengers and company that rented them the boat were left pointing fingers at one another.

According to the group on the boat, the trip was chaotic. They smelled what they described as an electrical burning smell, saw smoke, and eventually an explosion.

"Just a boom," said Dr. Scott Smith. "A ball of fire went through the thing. The boat lifted out of the water, and when it came back down, half the water from the hot tub was gone, and the lake was coming in."

Smith met up with FOX 13 News outside a hospital. He said he’d tried to work, but it became clear he’d suffered a concussion. He also had a fractured wrist.

His fiancée, Dr. April Hunziker, had bruises up and down her legs along with a sprained ankle. She, too, got an MRI and was told she suffered a concussion.

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(Photo courtesy: Will Boyan)

A picture with what appears to be a crack in the boat’s hull was shared with FOX 13 News. The passengers claim that Lake Union Hot Tub Boats didn’t have enough life jackets for everyone on board, and that no one answered the phone when they called for help throughout the ordeal. Instead, their calls went to voicemail.

At first, Lake Union Hot Tub Boats declined to comment. Later they responded with a statement indicating that they went to assist with the tow after receiving a call that the group had "motor trouble."

They didn’t answer direct questions, but sent a followup e-mail clarifying the boat never sank.

The statement made a point of indicating the group had been drinking.

"They returned to the dock safely and everyone was happy, with no reported issues when they left for the night," a member of the Lake Union Hot Tub Boats company wrote. "The group told our staff that they were heading out to the bars to continue drinking. They had been drinking throughout the experience."

That dialogue of the story has frustrated some of those on the boat. At the time of a 911 call it was pitch black, and the water was near freezing.

Smith told FOX 13 News that if they had panicked and attempted to swim to shore, they may not have made it if their bodies reacted negatively to the cold. He and others said people were drinking on the boat, but not the driver.

"It’s not a hot tub full of crazy, irresponsible people," said Smith. "It’s Sunday. We have to be at work at 7 a.m. It’s like they were trying to convince us it was nothing. I think that’s dangerous, it’s dangerous because it is something."

According to Lake Union Hot Tub Boat’s website, alcoholic beverages are allowed on their boats unless they’re in glass containers. Questions posed by FOX 13 News about whether they were trying to indicate that they rented a boat to people who had already been drinking were not answered.

Both Smith and Will Boyan, another passenger, said they didn’t wish any ill will on the company.

Whatever the case, the Seattle Fire Department was called initially to help the panicked group of friends. They noted online that a bystander had successfully begun to tow the boat to shore, and that the group had been taken aboard.

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It turns out, the boat that rescued them belonged to the Hot Tub Boats, a second group that rents boats out to Lake Union visitors.

Their team, according to Smith and Hunziker, provided them with blankets and towed them back to shore.

The full statement from Lake Union Hot Tub Boats reads:

"We pride ourselves on having the best customer service and safest experience possible. We got a call last night from a group out on the lake. We went out to assist and they got towed back in because they ended up having motor trouble. They returned to the dock safely and everyone was happy with no reported issues when they left for the night. The group told our staff that they were heading out to the bars to continue drinking. They had been drinking throughout the experience. All standard procedures were followed. Harbor patrol was called by the group but no help was needed. We always have a tow boat available for added safety. All boats are checked for any safety issues before each and every rental."