Tourism & Cruises

One U.S. tourist dead and others severely injured after Bahamas tour boat exploded

Video from a nearby vessel shows the tour boat in flames with black smoke erupting from where the vessel's engines are located.
Video from a nearby vessel shows the tour boat in flames with black smoke erupting from where the vessel's engines are located. ABC News

Shortly after a chartered tour boat left shore in the Bahamas on Saturday, it exploded and burst into flames. One woman was killed; nine others were injured.

According to the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the engine on the 40-foot boat exploded at about 9 a.m. when the vessel was off Barraterre island in the Exuma Islands. The boat, belonging to Four C's Adventures, was carrying 10 American tourists and two Bahamians at the time.

Video captured at the scene shows the panic in a nearby vessel as flames erupt in the back of the tour boat. Some in the nearby boat jumped in the water carrying life vests and waded toward the burning vessel as black smoke rose into the sky.

Christian Topperwien, who was on a full-day tour to see the Bahamas' famous swimming pigs, told the Nassau Guardian that the explosion occurred on a boat embarking on a similar half-day excursion.

Topperwien told the publication that he heard a "little noise" and then saw the vessel catch on fire.

"It was crazy. People from our boat jumped in the water and we got people off the water into our boat, all of these injured people. My wife and I helped with towels to stop the bleeding and trying to calm people down," he told the Guardian. "...I still can't believe it."

The woman who died has been identified as Maleka Jackson of Chattanooga, Tennessee, who was celebrating her 15th wedding anniversary with husband Tiran Jackson; he is in critical condition at Broward Health North in Pompano Beach. According to a GoFundMe account for the family, Maleka Jackson is also survived by a 12-year-old son.

The page had raised more than $43,000 for Tiran Jackson's medical and travel expenses as of Tuesday afternoon.

"Maleka was a loving Mom, dedicated wife, grateful daughter and supportive friend," a post on the page reads. "She will be greatly missed and her legacy will live on forever."

Maleka Jackson, her 12-year-old son, and husband Tiran Jackson. Maleka Jackson died Saturday during an explosion on a Bahamas tour boat. GoFundMe

Another passenger, 22-year-old Stefanie Schaffer, was severely injured in the explosion, leading to a double leg amputation. Schaffer, a dancer, is a senior at Castleton University in Vermont. She was on the boat tour with her sister Brooke Schaffer and her mother and stepfather Stacey and Paul Bender, according to a GoFundMe page set up to help with her medical expenses.

"Stacey suffered multiples broken bones and internal injuries. Paul and Brooke suffered bruises and cuts," read the page, which had raised more than $106,000 Tuesday afternoon. "We know their expenses will far exceed this as this becomes a life long struggle for this family."

John Iman, who was on the boat with Sheila Jones and her son, Haiden Jones, who is dating Stefanie Schaffer's sister Brooke, told ABC News that the explosion happened about three minutes into the trip.

"Stefanie was seated on the right side in the front so she was probably closest to the explosion," Iman told the TV station. "We used plywood and some two-by-sixes basically as gurneys to get the passengers to shore."

Schaffer is being treated at a Florida hospital, he said.

Stefanie Schaffer, left, had to have both legs amputated after she was severely injured in a Bahamas tour boat explosion Saturday. GoFundMe

The U.S. Coast Guard assisted in medically evacuating four U.S. citizens to Florida after the explosion.

The cause of the incident is still under investigation by the Exuma branch of the Royal Bahamas Police Force.

This is at least the second tour boat accident involving American travelers this year. In January, a boat carrying 10 tourists from Royal Caribbean Cruises sank off the coast of Cozumel. None of the passengers had serious injuries.

In December, a tour bus accident in Mexico involving American cruisers killed 12 passengers.

Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH