Horror scenes on boat explosion hawkesbury river Sydney

Like zombies with their skin hanging off: Horror scenes following the Hawkesbury River boat explosion in Sydney.

What was supposed to be a fun afternoon on the water turned into a nightmare for a group of friends when their boat caught fire.

Eleven people were lapping up the sun on the Hawkesbury River over the Easter long weekend as part of a joint 30th birthday party.

Moments later, the situation spiraled out of control, with witnesses describing the aftermath as resembling "something out of Saving Private Ryan."

On April 4, shortly after 5 p.m., fire crews were sent to a marina at Brooklyn on the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney.

At the scene, paramedics treated eight people, half of whom sustained horrific injuries. One individual remains in the intensive care unit and three others are being treated in the Royal North Shore Hospital's burns unit.

“You never anticipate anything like this,” said Joe Kwan, who was on board but escaped relatively unscathed.

Joe clarified that he and four other men had been friends since they were in Year 6 at a Sydney inner-west high school.

This photograph was taken approximately half an hour before the explosion on the cruise.
This photograph was taken approximately half an hour before the explosion on the cruise.

Tragically, it is their partners that have been disproportionately harmed by the freak accident.

Joe explained, "We were commemorating one farewell and two birthdays."

Two people - including his girlfriend Mirka Tothova - turned 30 on the same day.

Another couple was preparing to move to the United States for a career opportunity and was saying their final farewells – but those plans have been placed on hold in the aftermath of the crash.

Mirka, Joe's four-year girlfriend, is reportedly in critical condition with burns covering 30% of her body.

Mirka, 30, Karoline Santana, 25, and John Yoon, 33, are all in the burns unit together, while Ale Osr remains in the intensive care unit.

Sam Chan, 33, and Bernie Serrou, 43, were both released earlier this month and are now recovering at home.

Friends and associates have started several GoFundMe projects in anticipation of the rehabilitation costing more than they can afford.

Some of the burn victims needed 48 hours of induced comas while medical personnel rushed to save them.

On that fateful day, married couple Jess* and Oliver* spent the majority of the day at the back of the boat with their 22-month-old daughter, but moved to the front for a better view.

Oliver, unidentified man, Ale, Karoline, Sam, Mirka, and Joe are pictured from left to right. Bernie (blue shirt) and John are in the foreground.
Oliver, unidentified man, Ale, Karoline, Sam, Mirka, and Joe are pictured from left to right. Bernie (blue shirt) and John are in the foreground.

According to Jess, the boat's rear exploded literally a minute later.

They were showered with "melted plastic" from the fibreglass ferry - but due to the rush of adrenaline, they hardly noticed it.

As if they were zombies with their flesh peeled off

Oliver, 33, remembered the explosion's devastating aftermath.

“They looked like scenes from Saving Private Ryan,” he explained to 7NEWS.com.au.

“Everyone is wandering in random directions, like zombies with their skin hanging off. “As people leapt off the burning boat, they missed and almost fell into the water.”

One woman's dress melted into her skin as a result of the explosion.

Oliver continued, "She was absolutely nude under a dress and bra."

“Some of us attempted to strip naked and cover her up, but it was very traumatic for her.”

Another of their friends was severely burned, and Oliver mistook them for a stranger.

“The burns were so severe that one of our friends scarcely recognized me; there were no eyebrows,” he said.

“I inquired as to how you boarded the boat.”

Fortunately, Oliver's young daughter suffered no physical harm.

His colleagues, who were writhing in agony and in some cases still on fire, expressed concern for his daughter's well-being.

“The first question anyone asked and cared about, (despite the fact that they were) covered in burns and rolling around on the ground, was how our daughter was doing,” he said.

Tourists witnessed the blast and rushed to the rescue, opening their rental homes and giving the most severely burned victims access to cold showers.

“Without them, the burns would have been (even) more horrific,” Oliver said.

Burns up to 60% of the body

However, the three friends who were placed side by side in the burns unit sustained terrible injuries - nearly a third of Mirka's body was affected.

“The skin on her hands is completely gone,” he said.

She wanted skin grafting from her pelvis to her stomach.

Karoline is in a similar predicament, with open wounds on both hands and the front of her thighs. John sustained severe burns to his hands, and it is currently unknown if they are superficial or more permanent.

“He is unable to look in the mirror,” Joe said.

Ale has 60 percent of her body burned, according to a GoFundMe website.

Every three days, the burn victims' wounds must be washed to remove dead tissue - a procedure that Joe described as so agonizing that one of his friends was "crying from the pain."

“They're all in a great deal of discomfort,” he said.

They are always extremely cold while often suffering from fevers, which raise their body temperature to nearly 40C, due to their skin's inability to control body heat.

Karoline is undergoing treatment in the hospital.
Karoline is undergoing treatment in the hospital.

Financial pressures

To add to the stress, three of the burn victims are non-citizens of Australia and therefore do not qualify for Medicare benefits.

Mirka is of Slovak origin, Karoline is of Brazilian origin, and Ale is of Mexican origin.

And, despite the fact that they have lived in Australia for some time, they do not have private health insurance.

Mirka and Karoline, on the other hand, will be unable to return to work due to their burns.

Mirka is a store manager, while Karoline is self-employed as a beautician, and therefore does not receive sick leave pay.

Additionally, they hope to fly their parents to Australia - but tickets, hotel quarantine, and lodging would be costly.

“It's a colossal expense,” Joe said.

The recovery process is ongoing, and rehabilitation can take months, so they need financial assistance.

Meanwhile, the tragedy has brought Joe's interests into sharp focus.

“You have to cherish every moment you have with your loved ones,” he advised.