Rob Hall heard the thud up top while he sat upside down underwater.
And he felt comfort. He knew the thud came from the dive and rescue team.
Hall had just flipped his GP-74 Grand Prix West hydroplane during Saturday’s first and only competition heat on the Columbia River.
“I was next to my competition, Dustin Echols in the 55, entering turn 2 of lap 2,” said Hall. “I felt my boat get out of shape, and by the time I tried to correct it, the skid fin was out of the water. It blew over, and it seemed like an eternity.”
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Hall said it seemed like slow motion.
“It came down hard on the left side, and the impact was severe,” said Hall.
Hall tried opening the hatch, but he couldn’t.
“I was doing my best to stay calm,” he said.
Then he heard the thump
“It was the rescue sled hitting my boat,” Hall said. “That was truly the most comforting thing for me when they arrived.”
Arrived they did. Above the water, fans saw no less than five rescue sleds racing to the scene. They arrived in mere seconds.
“Instantaneously, when they hit the boat, they had that door opened,” Hall said. “Someone immediately tapped me on the leg.”
They slowly moved each leg forward and pulled him out of the boat.
“Everything was good,” said Hall. “No. 1, I was telling them I was OK. But they’re gonna do their job. I definitely knew I had my bell rung.”
He remembers a woman, perhaps named Cathy, who was telling him what was happening as a rescue speed boat hightailed it to the Columbia Park boat launch.
“The doctor there was fantastic,” Hall said. “I said I knew I was OK. I’ve been hurt many times in my life — by bulls, in wrecks — I was totally comfortable.”
Hall convinced the doctor he didn’t need to go to the hospital, and he was back in the pits. The boat he crashed was hanging on a crane.
He was so intent on the damage, at first he didn’t hear all the Grand Prix West teams giving him a loud ovation.
“I was concentrating on that when I realized they were clapping for me,” said Hall. “I tried to acknowledge them. To me, that’s what boat racing is all about. We’re one big family.”
Hall said race officials did a great job supporting Hall’s wife during the ordeal.
“She said they were holding her, because otherwise she would have fallen down,” said Hall. “The people here are amazing. This wasn’t the first time I had a bad accident, but I’m going to acknowledge them. I’ll send them a letter.
“I’m OK, thanks to the rescue personnel here at the Tri-Cities Water Follies.”
• Hall’s flip stopped the GP race, which was declared void. And the GP’s second race was canceled because of the high winds.
The class will have one other preliminary race today, followed by a winner-take-all final.
• Nick Bononcini has been the big winner through the first three races involving the APBA 1-litre Y Class boats.
He has driven his Y-8 Bononcini Racing boat to two victories and a second-place finish. But it’s been a rough year, he said.
“Last year, we won a bunch of races, but we’ve only won one so far,” he said. “The pink boat (Y-70 Porko’s Pals presents Grumpy with driver Jeff Bernard) is fast and the 17 (with driver Ben Black) is pretty fast too. We’ve made some boat changes and are using a different prop. It gets us through the turns better.”
The points from the victories and second-place finish will go well towards national points. But today is what really counts, said Bononcini.
“Sunday is a winner-take-all showdown,” he said.
Today’s final is at 10:30 a.m.