Sunday 26 January 2020

'Don't worry about lifejackets,' boat victims told

Death toll: The duck boat in trouble at Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri. Photo: Reuters
Death toll: The duck boat in trouble at Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri. Photo: Reuters

Harriet Alexander

Passengers on board a tourist boat which sank on a Missouri lake, killing 17, were told not to put on their lifejackets, according to one woman who lost nine relatives in the tragedy.

Tia Coleman, from Indiana, described in vivid detail the sinking of the vessel, known as a "duck boat", and said they were told: "Don't worry about grabbing life jackets - you won't need them."

Duck boats, which travel on land and water, are required to carry life jackets but passengers are not required to wear them after an investigation into a 1999 tragedy, when seven victims were trapped inside the vessel, found that buoyancy aides "forced them into the overhead canopy which acted like a net to entrap them".

Mrs Coleman, speaking from her hospital bed, told a local television station about the moment the ship began sinking.

"And I was yelling, screaming and finally I said, 'Lord just let me die, I can't keep drowning,' that's what I felt," she said.

"And then I just let go and I started floating. I float to the top, I felt the water temperature raise to warm.

"And when I saw they were throwing out life jackets to people and I said, 'Jesus, keep me, just keep me, so I can get to my children. Keep me, Lord.'"

The family had bought tickets for a different boat to sail on Table Rock Lake. But, when the ticket taker realised they should have boarded at a different spot, they were issued new tickets for the ill-fated vessel.

Mrs Coleman said that she and a nephew were the only survivors among 11 relatives aboard the boat.

"I lost all of my three children," she said. "I lost my husband. I lost my mother-in-law and my father-in-law. I lost my uncle. I lost my sister-in-law… she was my sister. And I lost my nephew.

"I'm okay, but this is really hard."

Leslie Denninson (64) died trying to save her granddaughter, her son Todd said.

His 12-year-old daughter, Alicia, showed him in the hospital how, as the boat submerged, her grandmother pushed her upward to safety.

The owner of the tour company said the vessel should never have been in the water because of the rough conditions brought on by a violent storm.

"I don't have all the details, but to answer your question, no, it shouldn't have been in the water if, if what happened, happened," said Jim Pattison Jr, the president of Ripley Entertainment.

"To the best of our knowledge - and we don't have a lot of information now - but it was a fast-moving storm that came out of basically nowhere."


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