Florida Everglades tour operator is arrested after boat flips over and dumps nine passengers into alligator-infested waters


An airboat overturned during a tour through the Florida Everglades, launching all ten people on board into the alligator-infested waters below.

A group from Coopertown Airboats was heading through the Everglades National Park on Friday afternoon when the boat operator spotted an alligator nearby.

Wanting to give tourists a closer look, he turned abruptly, sending the boat onto its side and everyone into the murky water.

Jose Maldonado was enjoying an outing with his relatives and friends, including some visiting from Puerto Rico, when he was thrown overboard.

‘All of a sudden, the captain wanted to make a U-turn, sort of on the water, so we could get a better picture…and the boat flipped on its side,’ he told 7News.

‘And we were all in the water, and we were all screaming because the alligator was right there.’

The boat flipped onto its side when the operator turned sharply to give tourists a better look at a nearby alligator
The boat flipped onto its side when the operator turned sharply to give tourists a better look at a nearby alligator
The encounter quickly turned terrifying for Leon Tourigny, a tourist from Quebec, who filmed the accident on his cell phone
The encounter quickly turned terrifying for Leon Tourigny, a tourist from Quebec, who filmed the accident on his cell phone
Footage shows the passengers scrambling out of the murky water as they attempt to get out of the animal's path
Footage shows the passengers scrambling out of the murky water as they attempt to get out of the animal’s path

According to Maldonado, the group tried to flip the boat over, to no avail.

Leon Tourigny, a human resources officer with the Canadian Armed Forces, was another one of the unlucky passengers.

The Quebec man filmed the group wading through knee-deep water and reeds as they scrambled out of the animal’s path.

It took 15 minutes for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue to arrive, passengers said.

Luckily David Gonzalez, another airboat operator, happened to be passing by and helped the shaken passengers onboard.

By the time fire rescue officials arrived, all passengers had climbed out of the water. One person was treated for injuries at the scene and did not require hospitalization.

Juan Carlos Negro, who was visiting from Puerto Rico, said he was left with scratches but otherwise unharmed.

In a statement, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) confirmed that the boat operator had been taken to jail.

Another passenger, Jose Maldonado, said the group was 'screaming because the alligator was right there'
Another passenger, Jose Maldonado, said the group was ‘screaming because the alligator was right there’
The tour was organized through Miami-based Coopertown Airboat Tours
The tour was organized through Miami-based Coopertown Airboat Tours
The operator was arrested and booked into jail for failing to complete a boating safety course and lacking a required captain's license
The operator was arrested and booked into jail for failing to complete a boating safety course and lacking a required captain’s license
By the time Miami Dade Fire Rescue fire rescue officials arrived, all passengers had climbed out of the water
By the time Miami Dade Fire Rescue fire rescue officials arrived, all passengers had climbed out of the water
Crews towed the airboat (not pictured) back to shore and cleaned up fuel that had spilled into the water
Crews towed the airboat (not pictured) back to shore and cleaned up fuel that had spilled into the water

‘The operator of the airboat, an employee of Coopertown Airboat Rides, was arrested and transported to jail for having neither proof of completion of a boating safety course nor a captain’s license issued by the United States Coast Guard,’ the statement read.

They declined to identify the operator by name, but the man was escorted to a waiting police cruiser once he and the other passengers reached shore.

Crews righted the airboat and towed it away before cleaning up spilled fuel.

The FFWCC is currently investigating the incident.

This article by Mackenzie Tatananni was first published by The Daily Mail on 3 April 2024. Lead Image: An airboat overturned during a tour through the Florida Everglades on Friday afternoon, sending all ten passengers into the alligator-infested water.

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