The tragic final words of some of the victims of the Missouri duck boat disaster on Thursday were ‘grab the babies’, it has been revealed.
Seconds before the Ride the Ducks boat capsized, the 31 passenger and crew on board scrambled to save the many children who were on board after a severe thunderstorm rolled over the lake and thrashed it with 60mph winds.
Seventeen people died including nine members of the Coleman family from Indianapolis.
On Saturday, one of only two surviving members of the family told how her husband and the other adults tried to save their young children before it was too late.
All three of Tia’s children who were aged one to nine died along with her husband.
Her aunt has since told how she spoke to her on the phone from her hospital bed.
‘I asked her what was their last words… She said all she could hear and say was, ‘Grab the babies!’ And that was it. They got one group of waves and then they got a second one, and that’s when the boat started to sink,’ Carolyn Coleman told MSN.
The boat was meant to go on the water at the end of its 60 minutes tour but the captain changed course in anticipation of the storm.
He decided that they would switch the order to get the water part out of the way first and thought he would be able to avoid the storm, Coleman said. The captain has not yet been named. He was one of the fourteen people who survived.
‘There was a warning… the warning people said take them out to the water first, before the storm hit,’ Tia told Fox 39.
Nine members of the same family (eight pictured) were killed on Thursday night after a duck boat capsized on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri (from top left: Butch Coleman, Ray Coleman, Glenn Coleman, Angela Coleman (seen holding Maxwell). From bottom left: Reece Coleman, Belinda Coleman and Evan Coleman)
Speaking from her hospital bed, Tia tearfully told Reuters earlier of her horrific experience trying to get out of the boat.
‘I couldn’t see anybody, I couldn’t hear anything – I couldn’t hear screams – it felt like I was out there on my own,’ she said.
‘I was yelling, I was screaming and finally I said: “Lord, just let me die, let me die – I can’t keep drowning, I just can’t…
‘Then I just let go, and I started floating, and I was floating to the top and I felt the water temperature raise to warm, and I jumped up and saw the big boat that sits out there.
‘When I saw [the first responders helping survivors on the pier], they were throwing out life jackets to people. And I said: ‘Jesus keep me, just keep me so I can get to my children’.
The NWS issued a severe weather warning at 6.30pm, 30 minutes before the boat went down. Witnesses say the duck boat crew knew about it and changed courses because of it, going on to the lake first instead of doing to the land portion of the tour
Once the boat began to sink, the captain released the canopy which survivors have said saved their lives.
It allowed them to finally swim free after being trapped.
Fifteen-year-old Gillian Keller told her mother that it was ‘so hard’ to escape before the canopy top was released.
Her mother Mandi, who was not on the boat, told The Kansas City Star on Saturday how the captain was ‘freaking out’ when they got into trouble in the water.
‘They were all closed. The windows were closed and the top was on. They were all stuck in there until that top came off,’ she said.
Mandi was with her father and other relatives who all survived.
‘None of them ever want to get on a boat again. Not one of them.
‘She’s sad — very sad. She’s only 15 and she witnessed a lot of lives lost, and she’s traumatized,’ she said of her teenage daughter.
‘Gillian said the captain was freaking out. She said, “I was freaking out because he was freaking out.”‘
The Coleman family were planning to go to Florida but they changed their itinerary because Missouri was a shorter drive.
Theirs was not the only fateful final decision.
Victims Rosemarie Hamann, 68, and 69-year-old William Asher were planning to go on a larger steam boat but they changed their plan at the last minute to go on the duck boat, according to their neighbor.
From Tia’s family, only she and her nephew survived. A picture submitted to media outlets by the family shows eight of the nine Coleman victims, stretched over three generations and including at four children – three of whom were Tia’s.
Family patriarch, ‘Butch’ Coleman was remembered on social media as a ‘community legend’, who spent more than 40 years volunteering in his community.
A woman who met the Coleman family before they boarded revealed they had only been on the doomed boat because they’d gone to the wrong pick-up area.
Tracy Beck, of Kansas City, says she and her family were waiting in line for another boat when the Colemans stopped talking to have a group picture taken by the tour company.
Tia Coleman, one of only two family members on the boat who survived, says they were told not to worry about putting on life jackets when the boat entered the water. Tia (pictured) said she had prepared herself to die when she finally began to float back to the surface
Beck says the ticket taker realized the family should have boarded at a different location in Branson.
The Colemans had to get new tickets and was put on the boat that eventually sank. Beck said she recognized the family when pictures began circulating Friday.
Officials say there were life jackets on board the sunken duck boat, but it is not yet known how many people were wearing them.
Jim Pattison Jr, president of Ripley Entertainment, which owns the vessel, told CBS the boats had life jackets on board, but Missouri law doesn’t require people wear them.
‘Usually the lake is very placid and it’s not a long tour, they go in and kind of around an island and back.
‘We had other boats in the water earlier [on Thursday] and it had been a great, sort of calm experience.’
Shocking video shows the boat being lashed by strong, massive waves for about five minutes before it became entirely submerged
But Pattison said the boat ‘shouldn’t have been in the water’ if conditions looked rough before the amphibious vehicle entered the lake.
The US Coast Guard confirmed to the Kansas City Stay the doomed boat was called Stretch Duck 07 and was built in 1944, during WWII.
Boats built in that era were used to deliver cargo from ships at sea directly to people on the shore.
Local bar manager Becca Blackstone, confirmed there is no encouragement to wear the life vests.
She told the New York Times she’d ridden the duck boats four times in 10 years, and nobody was ever required to put on the safety jackets – though they were always on board.
The tragic boat was not the only one in the water though. Video taken from a second duck boat, which made it back to shore with no incidents, shows massive waves crashing along the side of the vessel into the clear canopy, as rain pelted down on top of them.
A severe thunderstorm that rolled over the area, causing winds of up to 60mph, is believed to have caused the tragic accident (pictured: divers on scene looking for more bodies and living passengers on Thursday night)
Other survivors from the doomed ride report the canopy on their boat had played a part in the loss of the 17 victims.
Texas woman Mandi Keller told USA Today her 15-year-old daughter Gillian was one of the lucky few on board who survived.
Gillian had been visiting her father, Keller’s ex-husband, when she boarded the Ride the Ducks boat.
Her ex-husband had told her those on the boat were trapped under its canopy as the vessel began to sink.
After some time, one of the operators of the boat was able to open the canopy, allowing terrified passengers who were sinking into the lake to swim to freedom.
Pictured: First responders are seen pulling survivors who swam to the surface out of the water
But by then, the boat’s downwards pull made it difficult to escape, and was ‘sucking’ people back into the lake as they tried desperately to make it to the water’s surface.
Karen Abbott, the sister of one man who died on the boat, said it was unacceptable that the company did not enforce the use of life jackets.
‘[Ride the Ducks Branson] take people on water where no one knows how deep it is, in a vehicle that goes on land and water. They don’t make you wear life jackets! It’s ridiculous!’ she said.
‘I think this company should have their ass sued off of them and every penny they made should be returned to every victim that’s ever lost their lives in this.’
Video taken of the duck boat showed it being lashed by waves and rain for about five minutes before it slowly began to sink shortly after 7pm. The clip cuts out just as the boat appears to tip on its side.
Heartbreaking pictures taken from the shore show first responders running to a nearby dock so they could pull survivors who made it to the surface out of the water.
Emergency services spent hours diving to try and recover bodies and look for missing passengers.
By midnight, the death toll sat at 11, with many still missing. The next day, six more were pulled to shore.
Fourteen people survived, including the boat’s captain. Seven people were hospitalized with injuries.
Those who died range in age from one to 70.
Branson, a Missouri town known for its country shows and entertainment mourned for those who died on Friday in two separate vigils.
In one, about 300 people gathered in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks of Branson and sang ‘Amazing Grace.’ Mourners at a church sang the same words.
‘Even though we may not know any of them it doesn’t matter,’ said Tammy Miesner, 54, of Branson. ‘It’s a part of our lives to be there for each other.’
Earlier, Mayor Karen Best said Branson is typically a city ‘full of smiles … But today we are grieving and crying.’
Mourners left flowers on the hoods of cars which belonged to the victims and remain in the parking lot at the lake
Meanwhile, a Philadelphia lawyer whose firm has represented families in accidents involving duck boats, is calling for the amphibious vehicles to be banned altogether.
Andrew Duffy says the boats are ‘death traps on both water and on land’ in an interview with USA Today.
‘They should be completely outlawed.’
Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill now wants to take legally binding action to prevent future tragedies.
The Democratic senator says she’ll examine ‘legislative solutions’ to increase the safety of amphibious vehicles like duck boats after the tragedy in Branson.
McCaskill didn’t offer specifics after she was briefed Friday evening by officials from the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board. Both agencies are investigating Thursday evening’s accident.
The state’s other senator, Republican Roy Blunt, also was being briefed by the agencies. He said he will monitor the investigation closely and called it ‘a tragedy that never should have happened’.
Rachel Riutzel (left) hugs Russ McKay as he looks at a makeshift memorial for his friends before a candlelight vigil in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks
Mallory Cunningham, left, Santino Tomasetti, center, and Aubrey Reece attend a candlelight vigil in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks Friday in Branson, Missouri
42 DEAD IN DUCK BOAT ACCIDENTS SINCE 1999
At least 42 people have died in duck boat-related incidents since the land-to-water vehicles became tourist attractions in the late 90s.
May 1, 1999 – 13 dead after a duck boat sank in Lake Hamilton in Arkansas
June 23, 2002 – Four dead after a duck boat sinks in the Ottawa River near Parliament Hill in the Canadian capital
July 7, 2010 – Ride the Ducks boat overrun by a barge after engine fire, killing two
April 29, 2015 – Duck boat collides with motor scooter in Boston, killing a 29-year-old woman
May 8, 2015 – Woman killed after being hit by a Ride the Ducks boat while crossing the street in Philadelphia
September 24, 2015 – Ride the Ducks boat hits bus carrying school students in Seattle, killing four
July 19, 2018 – Ride the Ducks boat capsizes in Table Rock lake, Missouri, killing 17 and making it the deadliest duck boat accident
What is Ride the Ducks?
Ride the Ducks is a national tour operator with 90 amphibious vehicles, taking passengers on a sightseeing tour both on land and in the water.
The design of the vessel is based on the DUKW trucks used in the Second World War.
The company was purchased by Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation in 2004, and a majority interest in the company was sold to a private buyer in 2012.
In late 2017, Ripley Entertainment announced they had purchased Ride the Ducks Branson. It is believed the company only owns the Branson branch of Ride the Ducks.