Missouri duck boat passengers 'told not to bother with life jackets'

Rob Crilly
- Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Passengers on board a duck 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.

Tia Coleman, from Indiana, described in vivid detail the sinking of the vessel on Thursday, 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 found 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.

People pray around a van believed to belong to victims of a duck boat accident  Credit: Charlie Riedel/AP

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

“I lost all of my 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.”

Rescue personnel at work after the amphibious vessel sank Credit: Southern Stone County Fire Protection District/Reuters

Leslie Denninson, 64, died in the sinking, but pushed her granddaughter up to safety, loved ones told the Kansas City Star.

Her son Todd Dennison said his 12-year-old daughter, Alicia, showed him in the hospital how, as the boat submerged, her grandmother pushed her upward to safety.

“She said her grandmother saved her,” he said.

He wrote on Facebook: “The thing [is] she truly cared about Alicia she helped to safety and I look at her as a hero!!”

Relatives told the IndyStar that four children under the age of 10 were among the dead.

People pray outside Ride the Ducks facility in Branson, Missouri Credit: Charlie Riedel/AP

Ingrid Coleman Douglas said she had lost her  her two uncles, aunt, cousins and their children.

“They were very loved,” she said.

She named them as  her uncles Horace "Butch" Coleman and Irving Raymond Coleman; her aunt, Belinda Coleman; cousins, Angela Coleman and Glenn Coleman; Angela's two-year-old son Maxwell; Glenn's two sons Evan and Reece; and his one-year-old daughter, Arya.

She added that they often spent holidays together.

Carolyn Coleman told The New York Times the family had rented a van and travelled to Branson, Missouri, for their annual road trip.

Kyrie Rose, whose husband is a member of the Coleman family, said the family enjoyed their annual journey and get-together.

“They were definitely a very close-knit, loving family,” said Mrs Rose. “It’s really difficult to place an emotion on it. All of our hearts just hurt.”

A duck boat sits idle in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks, an amphibious tour operator in Branson Credit: AP

Other victims were also named on Saturday.

William Bright, 65, and wife, Janice, 64, of Higginsville, Missouri, were in Branson to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary.

Mr Bright’s sister Karen Abbott criticised the duck boat operator, Ride the Ducks.

“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,” she said, sobbing in anger in the company’s parking lot.

Ms Abbott went to bed on Thursday night not knowing her brother’s fate.

“I knew nothing about this until this morning at work, when my boss was discussing the accident,” she said.

“Needless to say, I fell apart because I couldn’t reach them on cellphones.”

People pray next to a car believed to belong to a victim of the duck boat accident Credit: AP

Another couple, from St. Louis, also perished in the capsize.

Friends of Bill Asher, 69, and his girlfriend Rose Hamann, took to social media to tell the world of the kindhearted couple.

Kelly Kientzy wrote on Facebook that Mr Asher was her dad’s best friend.

“Bill was always the life of the party and he was never without a story,” she said.

Steve Smith, a deacon at Osceola Church of Christ in Arkansas, and his son Lance, 15, died when the craft sank, according to the Christian Chronicle.

Mr Smith’s daughter Loren was on board but survived, while his wife had skipped the voyage.

“My heart breaks, but I know where they are,” family friend Will Hester said of the father and son.

“And I know I will see them again.”

The driver of the duck boat — Robert “Captain Bob” Williams — loved meeting people on his job, his wife Judy said.

“My husband was a man of God. He’d talk to anybody,” she told CNN.

“He made an effect on many lives. He would give up his life for somebody.”

Mr Williams used to serve as an elder and associate pastor at the King’s Cathedral in Providence, Rhode Island.

“He was an outstanding individual and one of the most humble people I’ve ever known,” said his friend Tony Krukow.

On Friday morning the owner of the tour company involved in the fatal duck boat accident 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.

Mr Pattison said Ripley – which owns the Ride the Ducks boat — has been in business for 47 years and has never had a deadly incident.

“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 is sort of the verbal analysis I’ve got,” he said.

“You know, they have a very good record.

“So, again, this seems to be sort of almost a micro storm effect of something that no one was expecting to happen the way that it did.”