Minutes after a chartered tour boat set sail in the Bahamas on Saturday morning, the vessel burst into flames and black smoke, killing an American tourist and injuring nine others, the Associated Press reported.
Royal Bahamas Police Force Superintendent Shanta Knowles told the AP that 10 U.S. citizens and two Bahamian crew members were on board the ship, which was embarking on a day trip near the Bahamas’s Great Exuma Island. Video footage taken from a nearby boat of tourists depicts a bloody scene of panic: screams for help and doctors, swells of fire and fumes rising into blue skies. Still, passengers in red life jackets waded through a translucent turquoise sea to rescue survivors from the burning boat.
“This is a sad day for Exuma and a sad day for our American friends. We are saddened and our hearts are hurting, but we will get through this together,” Bahamas Parliament member Chester Cooper posted on Facebook, according to CNN.
The explosion on the 40-foot vessel occurred about 9 a.m., when its engine caught fire, according to the Royal Bahamas Police Force, CNN reported.
The U.S. Coast Guard, responding to a message for help, airlifted four passengers to a Florida hospital, according to the Bahamas Press. EMS Air Ambulance flew others for medical care at Nassau’s Princess Margaret Hospital.
Authorities have not released the names of the deceased or those injured, but Melvin Grimes told The Washington Post that his daughter, Maleka Jackson, had died. She and her husband, Tiran, who met at Tennessee State University, were vacationing in the Bahamas, he said. They left their 12-year-old son behind.
Since the explosion, Tiran’s condition has deteriorated, according to Grimes. Early on Tuesday morning, his right leg was amputated.
“They were college sweethearts,” said Marie Walters-Robinson, Jackson’s friend and Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sister. “This vacation was them celebrating 15 years of a happy marriage.”
Tennessee State University, Alpha Kappa Alpha and the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity have created a GoFundMe campaign with the support of Jackson’s family, Grimes said. Jackson’s sorority also plans to host an Ivy Beyond the Wall Ceremony in Jackson’s honor at its 68th Boule in Houston on July 8.
Stefanie Schaffer, 22, an aspiring dancer, was also injured in the explosion, according to a Facebook post by her brother, George John Schaffer.
Their mother, other sister and stepfather were also on the boat, he wrote Monday, adding that Stephanie “had to have both of her legs amputated below her knees” and that their mother had multiple broken bones and other injuries. On Monday evening, he posted an update that Stephanie would be airlifted to Florida.
“Thanks again for the unfathomable amount of love that we can feel thousands of miles away,” he wrote.
George John Schaffer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mike Schaffer told local CBS affiliate WCAX-TV that he was shocked to hear that his niece and her family were injured in an explosion.
“You see this stuff on TV, but you don’t ever think it's going to be someone you know,” the New York resident said. “It’s a miracle that Stef’s even alive.”
A GoFundMe campaign to assist with the Schaffers’ medical and travel expenses has raised more than $80,000 as of Monday evening. Castleton University posted to Facebook that it was “shocked and saddened to hear that Stephanie Schaffer and her family were involved in such a tragic accident.”
Bahamian officials are investigating the cause of the explosion and fire, the AP reported.