A family rushed to rescue a group of people stranded on a burning boat on Monday off of the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, just moments before the vessel burst into flames and floated away in a billow of smoke.
Jillian Picarillo, 19, witnessed the entire ordeal from a nearby boat around 9 a.m. local time. She says she was fishing with her family on board the Monster when they saw the 45-foot charter boat on fire. Before they could jump into action, a family on the Lady Pamela II had already swooped in to rescue.
“It was very scary. We could feel the fire on our faces,” Picarillo tells PEOPLE. “Our captain had smelled something burning so everyone began looking around… Within minutes, the boat next to us was in flames.”
Video footage of the harrowing rescue showed one man nearly falling overboard as he attempted to climb onto Lady Pamela II. Picarillo says she was in awe as she watched the Barriger family, of Connecticut, rescue all six strangers.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. I never expected to see anything like this,” she tells PEOPLE. “It was cool to watch how everyone was helping out. No one second guessed themselves and everyone seemed to be trained well enough to act accordingly in a timely manner.”
Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue soon arrived at the scene, but were unable to save the boat. By time they arrived, the vessel had already sunk 15 feet, according to WSVN. Still, the rescued group was thankful to be alive.
“They were happy, grateful, lots of thank yous from them, including the captain and the crew,” Sean Matthews, who helped save the six, told WSVN. “We just had to help out and do our jobs. Not a bad day. We also caught fish.”
The fire started in the engine area of the boat, and quickly spread, WSVN reported. Lady Pamela II Capt. Gene Checci said, “It went from smoke to fire within three to four minutes.”
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“I saw smoke coming out, and I saw guys scurrying around. I looked down at my mate, and I said, ‘I think that boat is on fire,’ ” Checci recalled to the station.
“When I picked up the outriggers to go get them, the boat was completely engulfed in fire, all the way up to the flybridge, and all the people were out on the bow, so I just went around it, came up alongside the boat.”
U.S. Coast Guard officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment from PEOPLE.
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