A small boat carrying five teens on a late-night river trip in South Florida crashed into a bridge early Thursday, killing one and injuring five others onboard.
The 13-foot Boston Whaler wasn’t owned by anyone directly related to the group, but Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Liz Barraco said the teens didn’t have permission to use the vessel. Officials didn’t say how they knew the owner. Investigators are working to learn the cause of the crash.
Barraco identified the teen who died as John M. Baker, 17. Classmate Prince Hassan described him as “a good fisherman” and “the nicest kid ever.” He said they were all about to begin their senior year in high school.
"We're all kids, we're all going to party, we're all going to have fun," Hassan said. "It could have happened to me last night. I could have been on that boat, but I decided not to go."
The teens had apparently set out on the Middle River in Fort Lauderdale around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, officials said. Early Thursday, the craft crashed into pilings under a bridge on the south fork of the river, which runs through a residential neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale.
Michael Cooper, who lives near the crash site, said he was getting ready for bed when he heard a "tremendous smack" outside.
"I feel so bad for them and the family. I'm thinking about them. I hope they are OK," Cooper said.
Three teens were in critical condition, and two had minor injuries, Barraco said. Their names haven't been released.
Florida has no age limit for operating a boat. However, anyone who was born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, must complete an approved boating safety course and obtain a Boating Safety Education Identificfation Card issued by the state to operate a motorboat of 10 horsepower or great, according to Barraco.
The teen who was operating the boat had a card, but Barraco pointed out that passing the course wouldn't necessarily mean a person had the ability to operate a particular boat.
"It remains a parent or guardian's liability to make responsible decisions about allowing a minor child to operate a boat," Barraco said.
The Fort Lauderdale crash is the second tragedy involving teens and boating this summer in South Florida. Two 14-year-old boys disappeared during a fishing trip in the Atlantic last month. The Coast Guard spent a week looking for Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos. Their families launched a private search for the Tequesta teens, with volunteers scouring waters off Georgia and the Carolinas by helicopter, plane and boat before calling off the search Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.