Hydro Racing

Columbia River wild

The U-7 Graham Trucking flips heading into lap 3 of Heat 2A on Sunday, July 26, 2009.
The U-7 Graham Trucking flips heading into lap 3 of Heat 2A on Sunday, July 26, 2009.

By the time J. Michael Kelly knew he was going to flip over in the U-7 Graham Trucking on Sunday, he had the common sense to bring his body parts - his arms, his legs - as close to him as possible.

"I've watched people get broken bones by hanging on to the steering wheel or pushing with their legs," he said.

At that point, when you're airborne, there is nothing you can do but hang on.

Kelly did that in Heat 2A of the Columbia Cup.

The boat lifted up coming down the front stretch of the course along the Kennewick side of the river.

"I was running in Lane 6 and had third place pretty much locked up," he said. "Then I got caught up in some rollers (waves). It happened so fast, and then I hung up there for a minute and then went over."

The front of the boat lifted up and went completely over. It nearly landed right side up. But it came down at an angle, hitting the water and then flipping back over so that it landed upside down.

Kelly got out quickly, opening up the escape hatch on the bottom of the boat, which was facing up.

The rescue teams got there fast and got him into a boat.

He could be seen sitting on the side of the boat as it moved down the Columbia at a leisurely pace. A member of the rescue team draped his arm around the 30-year-old driver.

He was checked out by an ambulance crew near the boat loading dock, then released to his team.

"The happiest time of the weekend was when Michael got out of that boat," said team owner Ted Porter. "We'll get the boat back to Seattle and fix it."

Oberto driver Steve David stood in the pits and watched divers trying to get the boat ready to pull out of the water.

He thinks maybe the Formula camp should re-think its procedures. The team's two boats - the U-5 is the other one - are former Budweiser boats.

"Ted Porter has had a boat flip all three years he's been in the sport," said David. "Maybe they should sit in a room for three days and watch the old Budweiser DVDs to see how they set the boat up."

David made the point that this is just Kelly's third race in the boat.

The big mistake may have been letting Kelly talk too soon to the media.

Twenty minutes after the flip, he was out talking to television, radio and newspaper members.

He was visibly shaken and upset. After a few attempts to talk, he walked away to gather his composure.

A few hours later he was ready to talk.

"I hate for this to happen," Kelly said. "These guys have put a lot of work in in putting this thing together. I was hoping they could enjoy some time off this coming week.

"More than anything, I'm upset for the guys," he said. "We had the boat to win it this weekend."

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