Witnesses scrambling to rescue a group of people, including two babies, from a capsized pontoon south of Perth described hearing screams and cries as the vessel began taking on water.
The vessel flipped about 7:20pm on Thursday in the Mandurah Estuary near the west side of the new Mandurah Traffic Bridge, about 70 kilometres south of Perth.
A group of 13 people on board the pontoon, including a four-month old and six-month-old baby, ended up in the water.
Charlotte Wade and her parents were on a nearby boat that rushed to help.
“You could hear screaming and it looked like the front end of the boat was going under the water,” she said.
“They rushed to the other side — that was natural instinct — which started (the) momentum of the boat to rock.”
She said the pontoon began to flip and those on board, children included, had no choice but to jump into the water.
“As soon as mum and I saw, dad turned around and we whizzed over and managed to get three ladies into our boat,” Ms Wade said.
Mass rescue as bystanders rushed to help
They were soon joined by other boats, with members of the public jumping into the Estuary to help rescue people from the water.
Peel Water Police and Mandurah Volunteer Marine Rescue vessels also assisted.
“One of the ladies we rescued was pretty shaken up,” Ms Wade said.
“She got a bit trapped in the boat, and she was trembling from shock and was not good.
“She nearly passed out in the water when we were trying to get her onto the boat.”
The woman was taken to Peel Health Campus as a precaution along with the two babies and two teenagers.
It is understood the 13 people were relatives and had just departed the Dudley Park boat ramp before they ran into trouble.
The Mandurah Estuary is popular at this time of year, often filled with boats enjoying the weather and Christmas light displays along Mandurah’s canals.
A Department of Transport Marine Safety spokesman said in a statement an investigation was underway and took the opportunity to warn other water-users to be careful this festive season.
“With an increase in activity on the water over the festive season, it is a timely reminder that all skippers take care on the water and ensure all their safety equipment is up-to-date and in working order,” he said.