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The Guardian - AU

Horizontal Falls accident: 14 people in stable condition after boat capsizes at Western Australia beauty spot

An aerial view of the Horizontal Falls, Talbot Bay, Kimberley, Australia
An aerial view of the Horizontal Falls, Talbot Bay, Kimberley. Photograph: Robert McGillivray/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Fourteen people injured in an accident aboard a tourist boat in one of Western Australia’s most remote locations are in a stable condition and being cared for at two hospitals.

The boat Falls Express was carrying 26 passengers and two crew when it ran into trouble at Horizontal Falls in the Kimberley region of WA at 7.15am on Friday.

Five men and seven women aged 46 to 70 were airlifted to metropolitan Perth for treatment overnight and were in a stable condition on Saturday morning, the Royal Perth Hospital said.

Another two patients are in a stable condition at Broome Hospital.

Horizontal Falls is touted as one of the greatest natural wonders of the world with huge nine-metre tides that surge through narrow cliffs cut into two gorges in the McLarty Ranges. Jet boats ride the “horizontal” rivers created by the fast-moving tides.

Brad Sorrell, the regional commander of WA police, said while there were no life-threatening injuries, 12 people had been seriously hurt in the incident, with several thrown into the crocodile-infested waters.

Sorrell would not comment further about what caused the accident as a multi-agency investigation had already been launched.

He said the boat “may have capsized” at some point.

“At the moment the details of the incident are still under investigation and the relevant authorities have been referred to and we will be investigating,” Sorrell said.

“It’s not a classic police investigation. There are a number of things which have to take place,” he said.

Those people who fell in the water, which is also home to the deadly box jellyfish, were winched by helicopter from a large pontoon before being flown to a makeshift triage area set up at the nearby Koolan Island iron ore mine.

Damien Whitham, the critical incident controller of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, said four aircraft with six doctors and six nurses were sent to the remote area. Those people with serious injuries were then airlifted to Royal Perth hospital.

The RFDS assessed and treated passengers on the boat and nine people were treated for minor injuries. No children were involved, he said.

Those with minor injuries began arriving in Broome by seaplane at around noon today.

“As we speak, we have two patients being winched off the pontoon and taken back to Koolan Island as a staging post, where they’ll be further triaged, ideally as soon as possible and before last light this evening.

“The triage is ongoing, it’s been a massive effort,” he said.

First responders reached the boat by 8.30am, Whitham said.

Hospitals in the northern half of the WA Country Health service network were told to prepare for the arrival of up to 25 patients.

The boat was operated by Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures, a Broome-based tourism company that charges about $1,000 for a scenic flight, Talbot Bay cruise and ride through the falls.

In a statement, the company said the boat was guided by an experienced skipper but was involved in an incident early this morning.

But the operator denied the boat had capsized or any passengers had gone into the water.

“The vessel did not capsize and no passengers were in the water,” the statement said.

“The boat immediately returned to the pontoon.

“The operator can confirm there were 26 passengers and two crew on board and some guests have sustained injuries. Our team is working with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) and emergency services who will shortly be landing to provide medical and medevac assistance as required.”

Inspectors from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority were expected to arrive on Sunday.

A “prohibition” notice had been issued to Falls Express, the ABC reported.

WorkSafe was also investigating.