James City County, Va. – Commercial watermen Gerald Parks and Rusty Kellum were on the James River Oct. 5, when the boat’s engine backfired – and the boat exploded.
“The engine box went by me doing 100 miles an hour and it blew the bow of the boat right off,” said Parks.
“Everything was on fire. It happened so quick,” Kellum said.
Although Kellum can’t swim, he didn’t have a choice. They had to jump overboard.
“We had to either get over or stay there and burn to death,” Kellum said.
With some help from his friend, Kellum was able to hold on near the stern for 15 minutes with flames around them.
They were more than a mile and a half from shore at the time.
Another boat heard the explosion more than a mile away and headed their way.
“There were two of them on the boat and he told his buddy, he said, there's no chance to help whoever's on board there,” said Parks.
They soon realized that the men were in the water, though, and pulled them on to their boat.
“We were very fortunate, very fortunate,” said Parks, “They're good people. There's very few good people left in the world, but there's some still out there.”
The boat sank shortly after they were rescued. Amazingly, neither one was burned in the fire.
They were back out on the water Tuesday.
Kellum is able to go out in Parks’ boat for now, since he can't easily replace his.
He didn't have insurance on it.
“I had it on there and it just got so expensive to keep,” Kellum said.
With his friend's livelihood threatened, Parks is taking action to help him out, though he didn't tell him at first because he knew his friend would tell him not to.
But with a family to support, Kellum says he is thankful for the help.
Parks says he has set up a fundraiser for Nov. 6 at the Chick-fil-A in Gloucester from 5 – 8 p.m.
Events at other area restaurants are in the works, and already businesses have donated more than $1,000.
With everyone coming together, Parks is hopeful they can get his friend back on the water in his own boat soon.