Safety Takes the Spotlight this Year in Key West

KEY WEST- In the wake of an accident that has left a Honolulu powerboat racer in a coma for almost a year, offshore racing medical officials have taken steps to bolster self-rescue training for participants of this year's APBA/SBR Key West World Championship, which begins on Wednesday, November 7.

At last year's Key West championship, Tom Gentry sustained critical injuries when his 46-foot Open class boat hooked and rolled-over during the final race of the two-event series. Trapped inside his overturned boat, he drowned and was brought back to life, but continues to live in a comatose state linked to a breathing ventilator.

Another person in Gentry's boat, throttleman Richie Powers of Hollywood, Fla., was able to locate his emergency air supply and remained, breathing, upside down in his fighter jet-like enclosed cockpit before a rescue diver led him to the surface.

Powers ability to find the oxygen supply saved his life, officials say. "It was an extremely panicky situation," said Powers, 49, who is in Key West as a spectator for this week's race. "When that thing went over, there was no oxygen. It was just instant submersion."

Medical officials say that Powers ability to calm himself and find his oxygen source probably saved the life of the 30-year veteran racer. They point to the importance of simulated accident "dunk tests" which help racers prepare themselves in the event of trouble.

Dave DiPitrillo, medical and safety director for Super Boat Racing, the event's coordinating sanctioning body, says he will disqualify any racer riding in a canopy-protected boat who has not taken the test. As of Tuesday afternoon, almost 75 racers had completed training. Last year, only 30 racers completed the exercise. Gentry was not among them.

"Anybody that has an accident going 130 mph on the water has a high probability of death or serious injury," DiPitrillo said. "When the boat stops, your insides don't."

Besides the emphasis on self-prepardness, DiPitrillo says the medical coverage for racers aboard 130 registered boats is unrivaled in any other watersport. During today's first race and Sunday's scheduled final heat, at least 12 advanced life support medical boats, positioned around the 10.1-mile course, are to each carry rescue divers and paramedics. Two roving helicopters will each fly three jump paramedics around the course. Three medical transport boats will each be staffed by a trauma physician, an emergency room nurse and with medical supplies trauma doctors are accustomed to having in hospitals. Five private team medical helicopters as well as Coast Guard and Navy support personnel is to augment coverage.

Andy Newman - SBR

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