Florida and Navy officials revealed last Friday that they’re investigating an incident in which a U.S. Navy hovercraft being operated off-base by military contractors ran over a kayaker at high speed, leaving him bloodied in the water off Panama City Beach.
Matthew Goff, of Georgia, was taken to a local hospital April 14 at about 9:30 a.m. after [a state fish and wildlife] officer spotted him paddling up to the St. Andrews State Park boat ramp with a significant amount of blood on his shirt. Officers learned Goff had just been run over by a U.S. Navy hovercraft traveling at about 40 mph in thick fog. Goff suffered minor injuries. However, no charges had been filed at the time of the report, FWC said.
Representatives with the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division confirmed the incident occurred between a Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) hovercraft vehicle and a kayaker. Jacqui L. Barker, spokeswoman, said the incident remains under investigation.
Goff told officers that he was knocked off his kayak by the LCAC and suffered wounds to his leg and head. But he swam back to the craft and made his way to a friend back at the state park, rather than accepting a ride from the LCAC operators, who had offered to take him back to their base.
The LCAC crew, contractors for a corporation called Engility, said they slowed to 35 miles an hour in the dense fog but couldn’t see Goff until it was too late, about 50 to 100 yards off the bow. They weren’t cited by the fish and wildlife officers, who did berate Goff for not illuminating a light while he was in the fishing the bay in his kayak.
The Navy’s Panama City installation maintains at least 79 hovercraft, testing their limits for fleet and coastal assault operations. The experiments are worth tens of millions of dollars to multiple contractors who assist with the watercraft.