A local man helped rescue a dozen people from boats in icy waters after a snow-covered dock collapsed on them Feb. 17 at Blue Turtle Bay Marina in Old Hickory.
A dozen people, including children, were sent scrambling when the roof of the A-dock came crashing down at about 8:30 p.m. onto houseboats anchored at the marina on Old Hickory Lake. Occupied houseboats were crushed under the collapsed structure, and some took on water, said Nashville Fire Department spokesperson Kendra Loney.
It was a frightening situation, but all of the people were rescued, none were injured and none had to be taken to the hospital, said Loney.
Multiple Nashville fire crews and office of emergency management conducted a water rescue after the 100-yard-long dock tilted and collapsed, sending tenants running into their houseboats and tossing a couple people into the frigid water, witnesses said.
According to Nashville fire, the accumulation of snow on the roof of the dock caused it to collapse. Several additional docks collapsed at the marina throughout last week which saw a steady dousing of snowfall and ice in the mid-state area.
“The docks are not made to be stable or stationary; they’re actually made to rise with the water and to be fluid with the movement of the water. When you get ice and snow packed on top of these roofs, it causes them to sink, and in this case, caused them to collapse,” said Loney.
She said after the rescues, fire personnel made secondary searches and searched two other docks that were unstable and leaning, to make sure everyone was accounted for and evacuated.
Marina management said they advised all tenants via email not to be on their boats during the winter weather, said Loney. As a result of the collapse, other marinas in the area evacuated their docks, while some removed ice and snow from their dock’s roofs. The U.S. Coast Guard opened an investigation into the Blue Turtle Bay Marina incident.
Emergency personnel were initially dispatched to a call of “building collapsed into water” in the 2000 block of Riverside Drive. Once at the marina, boat crews and OEM divers initiated an immediate water rescue under a steady snowfall.
“We launched Boat 22, Boat 36, OEM launched a boat and OEM’s divers also came out. In addition, Hendersonville Fire Department sent a boat, and a person that was on scene offered our crews to use their pontoon boat,” said Loney.
Old Hickory resident Jeremy Morgan, 39, who lives in nearby apartments, moored a boat at the marina for almost 10 years. A former houseboat owner himself and a boater of 30 years, he earned the nickname, Captain Morgan, from tenants at the marina on the Cumberland River. He said he saw and heard the entire collapse, before he sprung into action.
“I just happened to look out my window right as the dock was very slowly collapsing. And the next thing I knew, we saw the whole thing just fall. I could hear people because I knew a few people were in their boats,” he said. “It was very loud. There was crashing and crumbling, almost a noise you can’t describe.
“I’m an Eagle Scout, so the first thing that came to mind was ‘where’s my pontoon boat keys?’ we’ve got to go get them out” said Morgan. “It was my first instinct.”
A witness to the collapse and a marina tenant, who asked not to be identified, said he was on the dock that night with his wife and grandson to move his houseboat to a safer location because he noticed the dock did not look sturdy.
“We knew it could go any minute because of the way it was leaning and the docks were already underwater. But I never made it. It’s just as well that we didn’t move because it fell onto the top deck, which had rails on top of the deck. That might’ve helped the blow instead of a direct hit,” he said.
Nayly Combest, an Old Hickory resident, was also on the dock that night with her father and brother. She said they were about to move their boat when the collapse happened.
“We were all out on the dock looking at how it was leaning,” she said. “Then it started cracking more and more. We all hurried up and ran onto our boat while my dad was still on the dock. When we got onto the boat, everyone was screaming. We were all scared,” said Combest.
“My dad tried to start the engines to try and get out, but it was too late when the roof fell causing so much damage to our boat and the other boats. Two people actually fell into the water. We are OK, but the top of our houseboat is completely damaged,” she said.
Morgan said when they arrived, rescue crews had trouble launching their boats because the boat ramp was frozen, and conditions around the marina were slippery. Morgan said he had immediately offered them the use of his pontoon boat to help with the incident.
“I know at one point they manhandled one of their boats and literally pulled it off” to put it in the water, he said.
Standing on land the next afternoon, Morgan recalled the events of the water rescue exclusively with Main Street Nashville.
“I couldn’t get a clear answer if I should put my boat in the water or not, but then one of the [chiefs] said, ‘Jeremy, you got your boat keys?’ And I said, ‘I sure do.’ And he said, ‘Can you get it in the water and get it going?’ I said, ‘Yes sir, let’s go,’” said Morgan.
Looking out at the debris of the collapsed dock, which was the length of a football field, Morgan said he launched his blue-and-silver pontoon boat, and “We got everybody out in two boatloads.” As he told his story, a relieved smile seemed to wash over his face.
“As they were rescued, each person was in boats that were taking on water,” said Loney. “We sent out that pontoon boat and were transferring them from their boats to that pontoon boat. This is a very dangerous process because it’s dark outside, it’s already slippery without the ice and the snow, and they’re certain things you have to do to make sure that you can safely get a person from one boat to the next boat.”
“I knew where everybody’s boats were and who were still on them. So in a sense, I was kind of glad to be there because I knew the marina very well,” Morgan said. “It’s really in my nature to jump in gear and help my buddies out. They would do it for me.”
After a few seconds of silence, the weight of the previous night’s events appeared to finally hit Morgan emotionally.
“It could have been really bad – very bad,” he said. “I’m just glad I could do my part. I know any of them would’ve done it for me. That’s what boat neighbors do. We all stick together and take care of each other.”
Main Street Media correspondent Laurie Everett contributed to this report.