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Witness recalls horror of boat explosion

Christian Topperwien yesterday recalled the horror he and his wife felt when they witnessed a boat in Exuma explode, injuring 10 people and killing one on Saturday.

The Topperwiens, who were visiting from Los Angeles, California, were in a boat behind the one that exploded.

“We booked the full day tour with Exuma Water Tours to see the swimming pigs, my wife and I,” Topperwien told The Nassau Guardian.

“It’s actually our second time here in Exuma and we are staying at the Paradise Bay. We wanted to see the stingrays and all that stuff. My wife wanted to take the full day tour actually. I had booked the half day tour beforehand, so we switched at the last minute.

“We were all on a bus and then we went to this room and then you get split off to a smaller boat. The small boat is for the half day tour, the bigger boat is for the full day tour. So the half day tour boat left while we were still getting instructions.”

The full day tour takes visitors from Barraterre, Exuma, to as far as Compass Cay.

In between, guests visit the famous swimming pigs, feed iguanas and dive in Thunderball Grotto.

The boat that left moments before the boat the Topperwiens eventually boarded was carrying 10 passengers on the half day tour when the explosion took place.

Police said one woman, an American, was killed and nine others were injured.

At last report, the victims transported to Princess Margaret Hospital on New Providence were in stable condition.

“When we got around I heard this little noise and then this boat caught flames,” Topperwien said.

“Within 15, 30 seconds it was burning at the propellers in the back of the boat.

“Then we saw all these people jumping off the boat into the water. There were people in the water already.

“There must have been another explosion before we saw the boat.

“Then when we got very close to the boat, it was really burning very hard and exploding. We had all the snorkels and everything in the water.

“It was crazy. People from our boat jumped in the water and we got people off the water into our boat; also all these injured people, which was around five people or something.

“My wife and I we helped with towels to stop the bleeding and trying to calm people down.

“I ripped off the lid from a big cooling box to lay someone on there because there was nothing actually. I couldn’t find any emergency kit on the boat.

“So one lady, who was heavily injured, I think she lost a foot or leg, and that’s the lady who unfortunately died in the hospital. That’s what I heard this morning when I woke up.

“That’s really, really sad. I still can’t believe it. I think that happened around 9:40 a.m.

“When we got back to the pier, there was no ambulance, there was nothing.”

His wife, Magdalena, wrote on Facebook, “We are so heartbroken.

“Nobody deserved what happened. We were all there for a magical experience ‘cause we all share the love for the beautiful nature and the animals.

“Last year was one of the most memorable days in my life and this year’s memories are filled with pain, tears and sorrow.

“I’m proud of all our men that helped without even thinking about it. They’re real heroes! They risked their own lives.

“Our whole boat, men and women, did all they could to get them out of the water and off the burning boat.

“Kids were crying and young girls sobbing. None of you can imagine what this felt like. All the blood everywhere.

“Prayers and love to all the injured and their families, but most of all to this poor woman’s soul; may she rest in peace.

“This is a catastrophe and I urgently hope that safety and maintenance rules will change. This can never happen again. Exumas was always our paradise and we want to keep it that way.”

Christian Topperwien said the victims were transported off the boat onto the dock via wooden panels. Once on land, the victims were placed in the back of a pickup truck and transported to the local clinic – a 40-minute drive.

Topperwien said the ordeal was a nightmare.

“It was like a horror movie,” he said. “For me it was like, ‘This can’t be real. This is like a movie.’

“I’ve never seen anything explode. I’ve lived in L.A. with my wife for a few years. We saw cars burning but not exploding, not people yelling and screaming and crying and shaking. That was like a bad movie.

“So we were really in shock. But we tried to calm people down that they not freak out. For us the day was done.

“We are leaving tomorrow back to L.A. We got an offer from another friend of ours who has a boat and wanted to go to the pigs with us today but we declined. We said no. We can’t do this.”

Topperwien, who hosts a T.V. show in Germany, said this incident won’t stop him from traveling to Exuma.

Asked if he would return, he said, “Of course, we will. We have friends here. Life goes on.”

 

Travis Cartwright-Carroll

Assistant Editor at The Nassau Guardian
Travis Cartwright-Carroll is the assistant editor. He covers a wide range of national issues. He joined The Nassau Guardian in 2011 as a copy editor before shifting to reporting. He was promoted to assistant news editor in December 2018.
Education: College of The Bahamas, English

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