Holland, MI – By Jim Harger, The Grand Rapids Press
HOLLAND – A fiery explosion ripped apart a vintage wooden boat Saturday morning on Lake Macatawa, killing an Ann Arbor man and injuring the boat’s owner, who lives near Ann Arbor.
The blast, which shook houses along the north shore of the lake near Division Avenue, destroyed a 27-foot wooden boat owned by Jon Huegli, 59, of Dexter, according to the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department.
Huegli’s passenger, Peter Christian Murray, 52, of Ann Arbor, died in the fire. Divers recovered his body from the vessel, which sank in about 17 feet of water.
Huegli, who recently bought the Shepherd Express Cruiser, was treated and released for burns and minor injuries at Holland Community Hospital.
Dale Borgman, who lives near Lake Macatawa’s north shore, said he ran outside after the explosion shook his house and watched in horror as flames consumed the wooden boat.
Through binoculars, Borgman said he saw one man in the water and another man surrounded by flames in the boat’s cockpit.
“I kept thinking; ‘Why don’t you jump? Why don’t you jump?'” Borgman said. “The flames just got bigger and bigger, and he just disappeared.”
The explosion, which occurred just before 10 a.m., was violent enough to briefly knock Huegli and Murray unconscious, according to Chief Todd Stein of the Holland Coast Guard Station.
“They had a full tank of gas on board,” said Stein, adding that Huegli told investigators he recently had work done on the carburetors. Smoke billowing from the boat was visible for miles.
Huegli told investigators he and a dog were able to escape the burning vessel, but said he was unable to rescue Murray, Ottawa County Sheriff’s Sgt. Kevin Allman said.
The burning boat drifted west for about a quarter of a mile before it sank.
Coast Guard Officer Jason Bernard was in the rescue vessel dispatched to the accident. “We couldn’t get closer than 20 feet away because the heat was so intense,” he said. “There was no saving it.”
Murray was an expert on organic foods and a member of the Michigan Organic Advisory Committee. He was owner of Sustainable Systems Design and the principal author of an analysis used by the USDA to negotiate trade of organic products.
Murray’s wife, Betsey, said Saturday’s outing aboard the vintage boat was supposed to be a “special treat” with a close friend. He is survived by his wife, three children, his mother and three siblings.
Ottawa County Sheriff’s deputies are asking anyone who saw the explosion or helped with the rescue to call the Sheriff’s