Terrified witnesses watched as people on board a casino boat shuttle jumped into the Gulf waters to escape a fire.
All 50 passengers were on board the Sun Cruz Port Richey Casino when the fire broke out at around 4:20 p.m. near Tampa's bay, KGTV reported. The captain saw flames from the engine room and turned the boat closer to shore so passengers could get to safety.
Pasco County Sheriff's Office told CBS News that the fire took place as the boat was 100 feet offshore.
Fifteen people were taken to the hospital to be treated for injuries such as chest pain, smoke inhalation and other injuries, authorities said.
The cause of the fire is unknown and, after it extinguishes, will be investigated.
The Coast Guard spokesman would not say when the vessel was last inspected and told us it would be inappropriate to share the results of that inspection while the fire investigation is underway. He said passengers waded in waist-deep water before reaching land.
Frigid air and cold water added panic to the rescue, but everyone was able to make it to shore.
Port Richey Police Chief Gerard DeCanio said the shuttle boat experienced engine problems after leaving the dock at Port Richey. Local residents then offered them towels, socks and water to drink. Behind them, the boat was destroyed by the fire.
The shuttle ferries passengers to and from the actual Tropical Breeze casino boat, which is anchored in the Gulf of Mexico three miles off the coast in worldwide waters, officials said.