On Sunday, September 29th, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigators worked to determine what led to a wave runner accident that left two tourists dead. Around 6:10pm, a rented wave runner collided with a double-deck dolphin-watch boat near the Clearwater Memorial Causeway Bridge.
The wave runner was operated by Ramana Gadiraju, 50, and his passenger, Shubhada Kulkarni, 49, both of Lower Gwynedd, Pennsylvania. The middle-aged couple was visiting Clearwater on business and vacation, according to authorities. The tour boat was operated by Tropic Boat Tours. None of the 70 to 80 passengers aboard the tour vessel were injured.
Based on preliminary information, investigators determined the 10-foot wave runner was headed southbound in the Clearwater channel near Marker 7. The 59-foot tour boat was traveling north. The PWC struck the “dead center front” in an alarming head-on collision at a fairly high rate of speed. The tour boat captain was able to retrieve the victims from the water and began performing CPR, investigators said, but the couple was later pronounced dead by Clearwater paramedics.
The investigation will be ongoing, but officials told media members they could not confirm nor deny information from accident scene witnesses stating they believed that the two riders approached the tour boat head-on in an apparent game of “chicken”. Investigators did say the tour boat operator slowed the vessel and then put the engine in neutral, but the wave runner simply sped into the front of the ship.
Any official determination of fault is pending further investigation, though the true intentions of the PWC operator may never be known.