PORT RICHEY — The first call came into emergency dispatch at 4 p.m. on Sunday from shore, reporting a ‘giant’ boat on fire in the Pithlachascotee River.
"It’s urgent," the caller said.
Others followed quickly, one woman crying as she described from her Harborpointe Drive home the flames quickly spreading aboard the Island Lady casino cruise shuttle boat.
"Some people jumped from it, but most of them are inside," she said as the 9-1-1 operator tried to calm her. "All that I see right now is fire."
That fire would send 50 people jumping into the chilly waters of the river after the captain ran the boat aground. One of the passengers, Carrie Dempsey, a 42-year-old mother of two from Lutz, would later die.
Pasco County released audio recordings on Wednesday of the seven people who called 9-1-1 to report the fire on board the boat operated by Tropical Breeze Casino Cruz. They expressed a mixture of panic and calm, the range reflecting their distance from the fire.
One woman called 9-1-1 after she jumped into the water to get to shore.
"We’re all jumping overboard," she said. "Everybody has jumped off the boat. I hope nobody is left on the boat."
The survivors stood around soaking wet in the backyard of a nearby resident after they jumped from the ship.
The first call came from a man who said the fire was "right behind" his house.
"There’s a boat on fire on the shore. People are jumping out," he said. "I feel like it’s going to explode."
His concern echoed the woman who had jumped from the boat.
"The boat’s going to blow and there are people still in the water," she said, panting heavily.
It’s not clear if there was an explosion, though some witnesses reported it had. The fire reduced the wooden boat to parts of its frame.
Authorities are still investigating the cause of the fire.
Staff writer Divya Kumar contributed to this report. Contact TyLisa C. Johnson at [email protected] Follow @tylisajohnson.