Casino ship catches fire with 50 passengers onboard off Florida coast

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A Long Island native is being hailed a hero after a fire on a boat forced dozens of passengers to leap for their lives into the chilly waters off Florida's Gulf Coast.

The boat was headed to an offshore casino ship, where gambling is legal, when the fire broke out just after 4 p.m.

He says the shuttle boat was close to shore when it had engine problems and the crew made a decision to turn back.

Pasco County Sheriff's Office deputies are assisting Fire Rescue and the Coast Guard.

Fifteen passengers had to be taken to the hospital.

A cause of the fire has not yet been released.

Jandali's family called 911 and helped people wading to shore, through water 8 to 10 feet deep. As the vessel turned back, flames kicked up and people began jumping overboard into shallow water, according to witness accounts. Some passengers had to be rescued from the water.

The boat was carrying passengers to the Sun Cruz Casino boat, which was anchored in nearby global waters, authorities said.

The boat was still ablaze hours after it caught fire, the fire department said.

Some passengers were also able to swim to shore safely.

Port Richey Police Chief Gerard DeCanio said the shuttle boat experienced engine problems after leaving the dock at Port Richey, a suburban community about 35 miles (55 kilometers) northwest of Tampa.

Local resident Larry Santangelo, 57, told the Tampa Bay Times: 'It was so windy and they were soaking wet.

The captain of the shuttle noticed engine trouble.

One person has died after people fled from a boat that caught fire off a Florida shore.