Investigators probe for blast clues

Authorities investigating a Tuesday charter boat explosion that killed a crew member said Thursday that they won't know the precise cause of the blast until at least next week, if ever.

Lincoln County Fire Marshal Mike Futrell said investigators are studying surveillance videos and interviews with survivors and witnesses. Next week, they will examine the charter boat and the pier where it was docked when the explosion occurred.

Nathan Coppick, 19, died while refueling the 80-foot Championship II charter boat at the Westport Marina when a spark ignited gas vapors. Four people on the boat survived.

Coppick's body was recovered Wednesday night and later taken to the medical examiner's office in Chapel Hill for an autopsy, Futrell said.

On Thursday, the remains of the charred boat were removed from the cove and taken to a nearby gravel parking lot on Water Oaks Road. The boat will not be searched until Tuesday, when all of the insurance investigators are expected to arrive, Futrell said.

Officials have not determined whether the fire started on the boat or near the dock, he said. “It's just like a house fire,” he said. “You have to dig through and look for certain areas to try and determine the origin of where the fire started to find the exact cause.”

He said investigators may never be able to determine the exact cause. “We may not be able to determine the ignition source … depending on how much damage there is,” Futrell said.

Anne Hobbs, whose husband, Lowry, owns the Westport Marina, said the dock area and store will reopen today. The snack bar and gas docks will open later, but she couldn't say when.

She said that marina employees will wear red-and-white ribbons in memory of Coppick, who attended N.C. State University.

“Nate was such a part of our family,” Hobbs said. “His loss was tremendous.”

Richard Coppick, Nathan's father, said his family will hold a memorial service Monday, but details had not been finalized. Donations can be made to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, in memory of his son.

“He was a good son,” Coppick said, fighting back tears. “He was a great person, and he was our best friend.”