Skipper of boat going 180km/h says he's lucky to walk away alive after crash

11:15 am on 24 February 2024

By Sally Wenley

This story has been updated to correct the type of boat involved.

The skipper of a boat which nose-dived into the water at 180km/h says he is disappointed he did not break the record but so lucky to walk away and tell the story.

Ross Christensen was the skipper of a boat racing in the Firth of Thames at 180km/h, which was towing two skiers when it suddenly came to an abrupt halt.

The boat Under Siege was winning the race when it nose-dived into the water - with the two-crew skidding across the water at about 60km/h after it barrel-rolled and sank.

The pair of skiers they were towing and ski boats in their wake came to their aid and kept the crews' heads above water.

Christensen is recovering at home in Hamilton following last weekend's race with what he said was a fracture at C6 level in his spine.

"I skidded across the water at that speed and then saw Adam about 15 metres away and not moving. The skiers went to him. I could move everything and am so lucky that a bit of damage is my only injury and it was just a nodule on my spine and didn't affect my spinal cord.

"I spent three days in the Waikato Hospital where they did a CT scan and monitored me for a little bit of internal bleeding. I'm just a bit sore, have neck pain and am taking pain killers and wearing a neck brace."

Christensen said he had a scratch on his leg as well.

"It's remarkable. After being ripped out of a boat, I am lucky I was thrown out and not stuck, as it sank straight away.

"I was hanging on to the steering wheel so hard I ripped it out. There's nothing else to say apart from there's a hell of a lot of luck involved."

Ross Christensen and Adam Smale in the jet boat Under Seige.

Ross Christensen and Adam Smale in the boat Under Seige. Photo: Supplied / Ross Christensen

Christensen said on Friday he went to the hospital to see Adam, who was the observer in Under Siege for the ski race.

"We were about seven minutes faster than the other boats and about to break a record and there was huge bang.

"Yesterday it was [Adam's] birthday. He is thirty-six and last year he won ski observer of the year and is really respected. He's still in a lot of pain in hospital but doesn't have any broken bones. His tissues are pretty injured and particularly the left side of his body.

"He got slammed into the port side of the boat and flung out. The rescue helicopter took him straight to Waikato Hospital. We don't know how long he will be there, but we are both so fortunate."

Christensen described ski racing as an extreme sport and muses that he had retired but chose to return to skipper Under Siege, what he described as an old-fashioned ski boat.

It was a vessel he had previously skippered and was manufactured in Australia in the early 1990s.

Christensen said it appeared one of the two propellers came loose from the motor making it flip. Under Siege had been salvaged this week and was currently sitting in the garage of its Hamilton owner.

"No one has made any decisions about the future of the boat. Safety is the priority when racing at up to 200km an hour. I had a lanyard from the motor tied to my leg so when I was flung out it stopped the motor. We were wearing fire suits, and special shoes. One of my shoes flew off and I don't know where it is.

"Our lifejackets are about two to three times the thickness of recreational boating ones and we have lots of buckles on them. Adam's helmet flew off."

Christensen said Ski NZ would undertake an investigation into the incident and if any concerns were raised it would be referred to Maritime NZ.

Meanwhile, Christensen said he still loved skippering ski boats.

"When you survive something like that, you have got to live your life. If another race team wants to put together another race boat, I would still enjoy it and go out again."