Felix Swane may have been the youngest passenger on board the PeeJay V but he reckons he was brave, even when his father threw him into freezing, rough waters after the boat caught fire.

Terrified passengers on the White Island tour boat have described how they leaped from the upper deck of the blazing vessel.

READ MORE: Boat owners devastated by blaze

Felix was among the 60 passengers and crew who were forced to make the terrifying decision of staying on board long enough for rescue vessels to reach the stricken tour boat, or jumping into rough waters off Whakatane yesterday.


The eight-year-old boy from Brisbane was on the holiday with his mother Julie and father Ian. He said he wasn't scared but he was "very, very cold".

"I was more worried about my mum because she was on a different [rescue] boat."

He said he was playing a game with his mother when a "big black cloud appeared out of nowhere".

"And then we all had to run onto the front deck. And three minutes later some boats turned up and we all had to put life jackets on. And the plan was to [jump] overboard to two black lifeboats circling the burning ship and we had to jump into the water."

Mr Swane said he was sitting outside at the back of the boat on the lower deck when he noticed the smoke coming from underneath a door. Fire then quickly engulfed the boat.

Mr Swane said it didn't take long for the boat to fill with smoke. "By the time we got out you couldn't see more than [a metre] in front of you. It literally went from nothing to if you were in there in two minutes you would have been dead."

19 Jan, 2016 9:19am
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He said the wind was blowing from the bow end of the ship so all passengers were quickly moved to the front of the boat to escape the smoke, which was enveloping the ship.

"A couple of people were coughing from the smoke, one or two had fallen over because they couldn't see, and a few were feeling seasick as the boat was rocking side to side."

The captain then dropped the anchor.

Mr Swane said a lot of passengers didn't get life jackets initially but those who did need one, got one.

"I'm a good swimmer so I was okay. Felix had one and when he jumped off it just went straight over his head anyway."

Mr Swane said he was more concerned for his son, whom he had to unceremoniously throw over the side before jumping in behind him.

Felix told the Herald he was fine but was upset that he lost his new Star Wars toy he got the day before, which cost $5.

Mrs Swane said she was comforted by the fact the crew knew what they were doing and they could see other vessels coming to help them in the distance.

Mr Swane said the captain was the last to the leave the ship and did it in style with a big swan dive.

Mrs Swane was carrying a bag, containing their passports, which she managed to hold on to throughout the ordeal, but her husband's wallet and their house keys were at the bottom of the ocean. Their car keys had been left onshore.