‘Very sudden and traumatic’: KC family hurt in boat explosion at Lake of the Ozarks

Two members of a Kansas City family remained at a Columbia, Missouri, hospital Sunday after a boat explosion on the Lake of the Ozarks, a family member said.

The family, which owns a house at the lake, was celebrating Father’s Day weekend when the 25-foot Chris Craft exploded shortly before 2 p.m. Saturday at the Millstone Marina & RV resort.

Five people, including a 6-year-old girl, were on board at the time of the explosion. The accident happened shortly after the boat was refueled, said Ryan Baber, of Kansas City.

“We were trying to start the motor and basically it was not starting and not starting and then it pretty much exploded,” he said. “It was very scary.”

The explosion and flash fire separated the top cap of the boat from the hull, as shown in photos of the damage posted on Twitter by the Missouri Highway Patrol.

The two family members who remained in the hospital were Baber’s sister, Cynthia Sterling, and her partner, Carl Harris. Harris has the most serious injuries, with a broken knee and hand, and third and fourth-degree burns. Baber’s sister has burns on her legs.

Their daughter, Grace Harris, also suffered burns. Baber said both he and his father, Robert Baber, had minor burns. Baber said he also sprained a foot, so he’s on crutches for a few days.

He praised the emergency workers who came to their aid. The family was thankful for their quick response and the good care they provided.

The explosion turned the Father’s Day celebration into a scary, and nearly tragic, ordeal.

“We have a 6-year-old with first and second-degree burns who is separated from her parents,” Baber said. “But luckily she’s here with me — her uncle — and her grandparents. We are trying to keep her spirits up.”

Baber said he didn’t know why the boat would fail to start and then explode. It had never happened to them before.

“It was very sudden and traumatic,” Baber said. “What’s important is that everyone is OK and we all survived. We will eventually heal. Carl is in the worse shape of all of us. We’re definitely pulling for him and trying to take care of him.”

Millstone Marina
Five people were injured Saturday, June 15, 2019, at a gas dock at the Millstone Marina in Morgan County. This Google Maps image shows the area from above. Google Maps

The cause of the explosion was suspected to be a build-up of gasoline vapors and a mechanical failure, according to a preliminary report from the Missouri Highway Patrol.

There were 157 boating accidents involving fuel-related fire or explosions, resulting in 2 deaths and 103 injuries, in 2017, according to latest recreational boating statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard.

The online news site LakeExpo covered several similar explosions over the past two years at Lake of the Ozarks that killed one man and injured three people.

A 47-year-old Sunrise Beach man was injured last June when his boat exploded just after refueling at the Paradise Bar & Grill’s docks. A month later, a 20-year-old Eldon woman was seriously injured when her 2002 Polaris personal watercraft exploded when she tried to start it.

The summer before, a 76-year-old Nevada, Missouri man was killed when a boat exploded at the gas docks at Pier 31. A 58-year-old El Dorado Springs woman was seriously injured in the blast.

The site also reported boaters were being urged last year to check for gas vapors in the engine compartments of their boats.

“We remind boaters to use the exhaust blower for at least 4 minutes after fueling & before starting the engine to remove gas vapors in the bilge,” the Missouri Highway Patrol Troop F tweeted Saturday.

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Robert A. Cronkleton gets up very early in the morning to bring readers breaking news about crime, transportation and weather at the crack of dawn. He’s been at The Star since 1987 and now contributes data reporting and video editing.