Trending Topics

Coast Guard finds FDNY at fault in fatal fireboat crash

A visiting firefighter from Belgium was killed when the fireboat struck another vessel


Photograph of Marine 1 Bravo, provided by U.S. Coast Guard.

U.S. Coast Guard/TNS

By John Annese, Elizabeth Keogh
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — A speeding FDNY boat sightseeing at the Statue of Liberty was at fault in a crash with another vessel that killed a visiting Belgian firefighter, the Coast Guard has determined.

Victim Johnny Beernaert, 54, was aboard the department craft Marine 1 Bravo on June 17, 2022, with three other civilians, including his wife, and one on-duty firefighter.

The Marine 1 Bravo was zipping through the East River topping out at 24 knots on the “favorable” day with calm seas and clear skies, according to the findings of the investigation.

The department vessel slammed into chartered harbor cruise “Honcho,” which was traveling at about 5 knots, severely damaging both boats.

Beernaert suffered a severe head injury in the crash and was rushed to Bellevue Hospital, but he could not be saved.

Three other passengers on the fireboat were taken to the same hospital, where they were treated and released.

The Coast Guard found excessive speed and inadequate lookout on the part of Marine 1 Bravo caused the devastating crash.

The boat was not sufficiently staffed according to the FDNY’s standards, which require a three-person crew for operations. The probe also criticized the lack of oversight for non-emergency cruising, which could have saved Beernaert’s life, according to the Coast Guard findings.

In the aftermath of the crash, both the city and the FDNY reviewed their marine patrol operations and acknowledged the lapses that led to Beernaert’s death. The department has since enhanced protocols, particularly concerning non-emergency cruising, according to the 28-page investigation report.

In July, Beernaert’s widow, Heidi Vermandel, filed a federal lawsuit seeking unspecified damages from the city, citing that she “suffered severe personal injuries … [and] negligent infliction of emotional distress,” the Daily News previously reported.

“She was in the zone of being killed due to the collision … and as a result, suffered great physical and emotional trauma,” the suit reads.

She is also suing the City of New York, New York City Boat Tours — which was operating the Honcho — and the tour boat’s skipper, Edward Mattiace.

Despite the Coast Guard’s findings, Vermandel’s attorney believes Mattiace should have been able to avoid the speeding fireboat.

“I’ve seen videotape from the Brooklyn Bridge, which shows that close to two minutes, the two boats were closing in on each other,” said attorney Paul Hofmann. “Both boats lost situational awareness, both operators lost situational awareness. They both failed to see what they should have seen.

“Clearly the Fire Department vessel was going, as the Coast Guard said, too fast for the area and the location they were riding in and their lookout was insufficient,” he added. “But the operator of both boats should have seen each other long before they got into extremis.”

An FDNY spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

©2024 New York Daily News.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.