‘There were extra gas tanks near the drivers’

Exclusive interview with tourist who vacationed with Bahamas boat company days before fatal explosion killed Metro Atlanta woman

Five days before Maleka Jackson was killed in a fiery boat explosion while vacationing with her husband in the Bahamas, Katie Smith had made that same voyage.

The Maryland woman and her husband were celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary and on June 25, they booked a half day tour with Four C’s Adventures to snorkel, see the island’s world-famous swimming pigs and even see a spot where The Bachelor was filmed.

“The boat seemed to be in good shape, but not necessarily new,” Smith told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I feel there is always some risk when you sign up for adventures like this. But I felt very safe on the boat. I never would’ve imagined something like this and I do wonder what the cause was.”

The Bahamian government is trying to find out as well.

This week, the government issued a cease and desist order against the touring company whose boat explosion took Maleka Jackson’s life and seriously injured her husband while they were celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary on the island.

The island nation's Minister of Transport Frankie Campbell told the Nassau Guardian that the order was issued to Four C's Adventures to maintain the integrity of an ongoing investigation into the June 30 accident that killed Jackson and injured 10 others.

“It is intended to ensure that nothing impedes the investigation into this matter,” Campbell said. “Accidents do happen. At this point, I don’t want to speculate as to the cause of the accident. I don’t want anyone to interpret the fact that we asked the company to cease its operations as any indication of a conclusion of the investigation. It is normal procedure.”

Smith found out about the accident on Facebook, where she happened to be scrolling through the page of one of Jackson’s sorority sisters.

“My heart dropped to my stomach when I realized it was the same tour we had just been on,” Smith said. “I didn’t know Maleka but... I am very sorry for Maleka and her family.”

A native of Chattanooga, Tenn., and a graduate of Tennessee State University, Jackson moved to Atlanta about 20 years ago and worked in human resources.

She was also very active in her son’s school activities, serving as the 2017-18 president of the Mill Creek Middle School PTSA in Woodstock, where her 12-year-old son is a rising seventh-grader.

As of noon Thursday, $113,000 had been raised in a gofundme account.

On Tuesday, dozens of people attended a vigil for Jackson on the tennis court of the family’s Lakestone subdivision. Her sorority sisters of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. will hold a series of concurrent vigils in Atlanta, Nashville, Memphis, Charlotte, Dallas and Houston on July 8 at 7:08 p.m.

The local vigil will be at the Briar Vista Elementary School Sports Court, 1131 Briar Vista Terrace NE, in Atlanta.

According to officials, Jackson and her husband Tiran were on a small boat carrying 10 tourists and two Bahamian crew members Saturday morning. They were on their way to tour the Exuma Cays and visit the  swimming pigs.

While it is unclear how the morning went for the Jacksons before they got on the boat, it might have been mundanely similar to Smith’s. Two boats set sail the morning of June 25.

Smith said she and her husband were put on a boat with couples and the second boat had families on it.

“They offered free beer, sodas and water bottles,” Smith said. “There were extra gas tanks on the boat (near) the two drivers, but I’m not sure if they were filled.”

She said she is not sure if she was on the same boat that Jackson was on a week later.

Credit: GoFundMe

Credit: GoFundMe

»RELATED: Maleka Jackson was a leader among her sorority sisters

The boat exploded about 9 a.m. Saturday off the coast of Exuma, which is 130 miles south of Nassau. Tiran Jackson was badly burned in the explosion, had a leg amputated and is “fighting for his life” after being airlifted to Broward General Hospital in Fort Lauderdale.

Video filmed from a nearby boat showed tourists jumping into the water to rescue passengers in the burning boat. The footage also showed thick, black smoke pouring into the sky and large flames shooting from the boat.

Campbell said the boat was a 38-foot gas powered vessel holding two tanks with a capacity of 120 gallons each. The aluminum boat also had two 300 horsepower Yamaha engines built in 2012, Campbell said.

“There are a number of other vessels that the company owns. I think it is prudent to ensure that everything is in order, that we can assure and guarantee the safety as we move forward,” Campbell said. “So, it is not a finite decision. It is a temporary suspension of the operations until we are satisfied that we can move forward safely.”

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