Woman who lost 9 relatives in duck boat accident shares harrowing story

Video Mourners remember victims of 'duck boat' tragedy
Video Mourners remember victims of 'duck boat' tragedy
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23 July, 2018

"I thought I was dead", she said, speaking to reporters at Cox Medical Center Branson, where she's been recovering from her injuries. When the Indianapolis woman came up for air, she was alone.

"If I was able to get a life jacket, I could have saved my babies", said the distraught Coleman, who had been sitting next to one of her children.

Coleman recalled spotting the rescue boat and managed to reach it, "somehow". Seventeen people died Thursday when one of the boats sank in a storm with 5-foot waves on Table Rock Lake in Branson. Also killed were 64-year-old Leslie Dennison of IL, and 53-year-old Steve Smith and his son, 15-year-old Lance Smith, both from Arkansas.

The attorney general said investigators from the Missouri State Highway Patrol will also look at the boat's canopy and how hard it was for the passengers and crew to get off during the chaotic event.

State and federal investigators were trying to determine what sent the vessel, originally built for military use in the Second World War, to its demise. An initial assessment blamed thunderstorms and winds that approached hurricane strength, but it wasn't clear why the amphibious vehicle even ventured out into the water.

Coleman says the captain of the boat told passengers, "Don't worry about grabbing the life jackets - you won't need them".

The National Weather Service in Springfield, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of Branson, issued a severe thunderstorm watch for its immediate area Thursday, saying conditions were ripe for winds of 70 mph.

Steve Paul, the owner of St. Louis-based Test Drive technologies said he issued a written report to Ripley Entertainment last August - explaining how their "Ride the Duck" boats' engines - and pumps that remove water from their hulls - might fail. The company hasn't commented on Coleman's account of the tour, which usually begins with a land tour of downtown Branson, known for its country shows and entertainment, before the vessel enters the lake for a short ride on the water. Dark clouds, whipping winds and heavy rains had abruptly turned a routine tour into a disaster for 29 passengers and two crew members.

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Two GoFundMe campaigns are underway for the Coleman family, who lost three generations in the duck boat accident.

Another survivor was 12-year-old Alicia Dennison, of IL, who says her grandmother, 64-year-old Leslie Dennison, saved her from drowning. Neither of them knew the victims, but they said they felt compelled to join, both to say prayers and show gratitude. They hope this will help the Coleman's bury their loved ones. "It's just heartbreaking", said friend Russ McKay, who said talked to Hamann the day before the accident.

The governor noted that the boats are under the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard once they leave the shore.

Life jackets were on the boat, but there is no regulation mandating that duck boat passengers wear them, Pattison said Friday.

"My heart is very heavy", one of the two family survivors, Tia Coleman, told WXIN-TV. "When youre on vacation and youre touring, you expect whoevers running these facilities to be alert on weather and anything else in the surroundings that could bring harm to anyone", Carolyn Coleman said.

Ride the Ducks Branson said it was deeply saddened and "will be closed for business while we support the investigation, and to allow time to grieve for the families and the community".

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the Branson accident, has complained in the past about a lack of oversight and sometimes conflicting regulations over the vehicles. A total of nine members of her family perished.

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