Missouri duck boat survivor recalls sister-in-law’s last words – ‘grab the baby’
Seventeen people were killed in the accident, including nine of Tia Coleman’s relatives.
A mother who lost nine relatives in a tourist boat accident in the US has recalled her sister-in-law’s last words.
Tia Coleman said she heard her brother’s wife shout “grab the baby” after the tourist boat they were on sank into a lake in Missouri, killing 17 people in total.
A huge wave hit, scattering passengers on the vessel known as a duck boat into Table Rock Lake near Branson, Ms Coleman said. She was alone when she came up for air.
“I said, ‘Lord, please, let me get to my babies,” she told reporters from her wheelchair in hospital where she is recovering after swallowing lake water.
Ms Coleman recalled spotting the rescue boat and managed to reach it.
Her husband and three children, aged nine, seven and one; her 45-year-old sister-in-law and two-year-old nephew; her mother-in-law and father-in-law and her husband’s uncle all died on Thursday in the deadliest accident of its kind in nearly two decades.
Others killed included a Missouri couple who had just celebrated a birthday; another Missouri couple on what was planned as their last extended vacation; an Illinois woman who died while saving her granddaughter’s life; an Arkansas father and son; and a retired pastor who was the boat’s operator.
None of the 31 passengers on board was wearing a life jacket, according to an incident report released by the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
State and federal investigators were trying to determine what caused the vessel, originally built for military use in the Second World War, to crash.
An initial assessment blamed thunderstorms and winds that approached hurricane strength, but it was not clear why the amphibious vehicle even ventured into the water.
Ms Coleman said the crew told passengers they were going into the water first, before the land-based part of their tour, because of the incoming storm. The area had been under a severe thunderstorm watch for hours and a severe thunderstorm warning for more than 30 minutes before the boat sank.
Suzanne Smagala with Ripley Entertainment, which owns Ride the Ducks in Branson, said it was the company’s only accident in more than 40 years of operation.
The company has not commented on Ms Coleman’s account of the tour, which usually begins with a tour of downtown Branson, known for its country shows and entertainment, before the vessel enters the lake for a short ride on the water.
Company President Jim Pattison Jr said the boat captain had 16 years of experience, and the business monitors weather.
Twenty-nine passengers and two crew members were aboard. Fourteen people survived, including two adults. Ms Coleman and her 13-year-old nephew were the only of the 11 members of her family who boarded the boat to survive.