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Boat inferno dad tells of incredible escape
- Brave Jak, 10, refused to flee alone
- Dad John smashed his way through the cabin roof
- They swam up the Ouse in the dark to safety
- Two minutes later their boat exploded
A FATHER has told of his incredible escape with his badly burnt son from a blazing boat on York’s River Ouse.
John Church revealed he and his ten-year-old son Jak were trapped in their cruiser’s cabin after being woken by a raging inferno while spending the night on the boat, moored at Acaster Malbis.
Speaking publicly about the incident for the first time, and just days after another major boat fire on the Ouse, Mr Church told how he and his son escaped from their boat just moments before it exploded.
Mr Church, 41, said he punched a hole in a small perspex hatch covering, but the backdraft then swept flames through the cabin towards Jak, burning his back and arms.
He pushed Jak through the hatch but knew he himself had no chance of fitting through the narrow gap and - resigned to dying - told Jak to leave him, jump into the river and save himself.
But Jak told him: “No, I’m going to die with you,” and remained on the deck of the cruiser, called Mojo.
Mr Church said he then somehow found almost superhuman strength to punch and punch the fibreglass roof of the cabin until he had created a hole big enough to clamber through.
“I don’t know how I did it but I wasn’t going to allow Jak to die,” he said. “He was so brave. The roof is strong enough to hold eight people. My hands were swollen to twice their size afterwards but amazingly they found later I had broken no bones.”
He said he jumped off the boat with Jak into the dark, swirling waters of the river, narrowly missing being impaled on scaffolding poles.
In the water, he couldn’t see Jak but he then felt him with his foot and managed to grab him and pull him to the surface. His priority then was to avoid being swept towards nearby Naburn weir and he swam with Jak upstream to another moored boat, where they clambered on board and laid down on the deck, exhausted and crying for help.
A boater moored on the other side of the river heard them - and within two minutes, Mr Church’s boat Mojo exploded in a fireball.
Mr Church, a joiner from Acomb, was speaking publicly for the first time about his traumatic experiences, which happened in June. He said the memories had been brought back by the dramatic fire nine days ago on a cruiser moored at Kings Staith in York.
He said firefighters and paramedics were called to Acaster and he and Jak were taken to York Hospital, however Jak’s burns were so bad that he had to be swiftly transferred to the burns unit at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield.
He was accompanied in the ambulance by his mother Mandy, who had been staying at home that night and only heard about the fire when John called her on his way to hospital.
Jak was sedated every two days at Pinderfields to allow dressings on his burns to be replaced and now, four months later, his skin has made a remarkable recovery.
“They say he only survived because he was only wearing his pants when the flames shot at him,” said John. “They said that if he had been wearing his ‘onesie’, it would have stuck to him and burnt him so badly that he would have died.
“Entering the cold water also helped, although that did increase the risk of infection.”
He also said they also only survived because, when he had gone to fill the boat with petrol earlier in the day, the ‘filling station’ at Naburn was closed, and the tank was therefore almost empty when the fire broke out. “The explosion would have been ten times bigger with a full tank,” he said.
He praised the ‘mint’ firefighters and ambulancemen, and the staff at Pinderfields who had treated Jak so well.
Jak to raise money for burns unit
JAK Church has decided to launch a fundraising drive for the burns unit at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, where he was treated after the fire.
The ten-year-old is planning to stage a sponsored bike ride around Knavesmire later this autumn.
But he said there were also plans for his school, Dringhouses Primary, to hold a ‘bandage day’, similar to a non-uniform day, in which pupils can pay a sum to come to school with a bandage on. Jak said he returned to the school wearing bandages after he left hospital in the summer.
Jak says the money raised will be divided between the unit itself and also the Pinderfields burns club, a club for young people who have had major burn injuries and needed treatment at the centre, which organises an annual camp.
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