1 missing after boat explodes at marina

One person was missing after a charter boat with five people aboard exploded Tuesday while it was being refueled at a Lake Norman marina.

The 80-foot charter boat, Championship II, owned by Championship Yacht Charters, exploded at the Westport Marina, on the southern end of Lake Norman in eastern Lincoln County.

The explosion sparked a fire and severely damaged the rear of the boat, eventually causing it to sink. The missing person was not identified, and recovery teams were searching for a body late Tuesday.

Championship Yacht Charters owner Cliff Champion said the boat had just returned to the marina after a graduation party cruise, and nearly everyone from the party was on shore.

Champion, three crew members and the father of the graduate were still aboard, Champion said. One of the crew members was refueling the boat, which holds about 280 gallons. The boat had about 150 gallons in it when it exploded, officials estimated.

About 4:10 p.m., Champion said, he heard a small explosion that blew out the windows of the boat. He and the father got off the front of the boat, and two of the crew members jumped off the boat's second level, he said.

Immediately after, there was a second, larger explosion, Champion said. He said he didn't know what caused the blast. Champion said he and the three others who made it off the boat received minor injuries.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze, but rescue workers did not immediately search for the missing person because of fuel and oil in the water. A hazardous materials team arrived at the marina shortly before 7 p.m. to begin the cleanup.

Bradley Mark Randall, 23, who lives on Blackwood Road, across a small cove from the marina, saw the partygoers leaving the boat.

Shortly after, he said, he was sitting in his living room, watching TV when he heard a loud boom. “I jumped up, and I saw the boat on fire, and I saw two girls jump off from the very top,” he said.

He felt the force of the explosion inside his house, he said. “I thought somebody hit the house with a car, it was so loud,” he said.

Champion and his 80-foot yacht are fixtures on Lake Norman. It was one of the first charter boats on the lake and often a part of special events.