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Missouri duck boat victims had bought tickets for a different tour



Ride the ducks
Ride the Ducks boat capsized in Table Rock Lake in Branson,
Missouri, on Thursday.


  • Ride the Ducks capsize survivor Tia Coleman said she
    and 10 family members had bought tickets for another duck boat
    tour but had their tickets swapped for Thursday’s
  • Coleman and her 13-year-old nephew were the only
    members of their family to survive the capsize. 
  • She said that the captain of the boat told the 29
    passengers on the duck boat that they wouldn’t need life
    jackets, and by the time of the accident, “it was too

More than half of the 17 people killed when a tourist boat sank
on a Branson, Missouri, lake were members of the same Indiana
family, and they likely wouldn’t have been on the ill-fated trip
but for a ticket mix-up.

One of two survivors of the family, Tia Coleman, told
that she and 10 members of her family had bought tickets
for a duck boat tour, but went to the wrong location when it was
time to board.

Coleman was able to switch the tickets for the 6:30 p.m. ride
with Ride The Ducks, and an hour later, she and her 13-year-old
nephew were the only family members to survive the capsize in
Table Rock Lake.

Ahead of Thursday’s ride, Colman said that she was told that
despite most duck boat tours starting on land, her family’s would
start in the water due to an incoming storm.

She told KOLR: “Big huge waves, choppy — everybody started
getting like hey, this is getting a little bit too much, and then
it got really choppy and big swells of water started coming in to
the boat.

“Then a really huge wave swept over and when that wave swept
over, the last thing I heard my sister-in-law say was ‘grab the

The waves soon took over the boat, and the watercraft started

“My head pushed up to the top of the water and I lost control, I
didn’t have anybody with me,” Coleman said, “I couldn’t see
anybody. And I know it wasn’t but I felt like I struggled for at
least an hour, but it was probably like 10 minutes. And I just
remembered I kept sinking, I kept sinking.”

Coleman told WXIN that the captain of the boat told the 29
passengers on the duck boat that they wouldn’t need life
jackets. By the time of the accident, “it was too late.”

Coleman lost her husband, three children, aged 9, 7, and 1, her
mother-in-law, father-in-law, her uncle, her sister-in-law, and
her sister-in-law’s soon-to-be three-year-old in the capsize. Her
13-year-old nephew was the only other survivor in the family.

The grief-stricken community in Branson, Missouri, known for its
country shows and entertainment, hosted two vigils Friday night.

About 300 people gathered in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks of
Branson and others mourned at a church, singing “Amazing Grace”
at both locations.

At the rally at the duck boat business, the Rev. Zachary Klein
said he had no words of comfort to offer the families of victims
“because there simply are no words to comfort them.”

Divers found the final four bodies Friday in Table Rock Lake near
Branson after the deadliest accident of its kind in nearly two

State and federal investigators were trying to determine what
went sent the vessel known as a duck boat 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.

Mayor Karen Best said Branson is typically a city “full of smiles
… But today we are grieving and crying.”

Officials haven’t released names of the victims, but the sad
details emerged throughout the day. Among them: A popular duck
boat driver, a father and son visiting from Arkansas, and the
nine Indiana relatives, many of them children.

The risk of heavy weather was apparent hours before the boat left

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.

It followed up at 6:32 p.m. with a severe thunderstorm warning
for three counties that included Branson and the lake. The
warning mentioned both locations. The boat went down about 40
minutes later, shortly after 7 p.m.

“When we issue a warning, it means take action,” meteorologist
Kelsey Angle said.

A full investigation was underway, with help from the Coast Guard
and the National Transportation Safety Board. Stone County
Sheriff Doug Rader urged anyone with video or photos of the
accident to contact authorities.

The agencies were briefing Missouri’s two senators on the
accident. Democrat Claire McCaskill said she would look into
possible “legislative solutions,” while Republican Roy Blunt
called it a “tragedy that never should have happened.”

Suzanne Smagala with Ripley Entertainment, which owns Ride the
Ducks in Branson, said the company was assisting authorities. She
said this was the company’s only accident in more than 40 years
of operation.

Twenty-nine passengers and two crew members were aboard for a
pleasure cruise. Seven of the 14 survivors were hurt when the
vessel went down. At least two children and two adults were still
hospitalized Friday afternoon. The captain survived, authorities

Among the injured was 14-year-old Loren Smith of Osceola,
Arkansas. Her father, 53-year-old retired math teacher Steve,
Smith, and her 15-year-old brother, Lance, died in the accident.
Loren suffered a concussion but survived.

“It’s a hard thing,” Steve Smith’s father, Carroll Smith, said of
losing his only child and his only grandson. “It’s a very
difficult day.”

Brayden Malaske, of Harrah, Oklahoma, boarded a replica
19th-century paddle-wheeler known as the Branson Belle on the
same lake just before the storm hit.

At the time, he said, the water seemed calm, and no one was
worried about the weather.

“But it suddenly got very dark,” he recalled.

In a short video taken by Malaske from the deck of the Belle, the
duck boat can be seen wallowing through the choppy, wind-whipped
lake, with water only inches from its windows. Dark, rolling
waves crash over its front end. The footage ends before the boat

Later, people on Malaske’s boat saw a duck boat passenger
“hanging on for dear life” to the paddle wheel of the Belle, he

The mayor identified the crew member operating the boat as Bob
Williams, known informally as “Captain Bob.”

“He was a great ambassador for Branson,” Best said. “He was at
every event. He knew everyone. He was always promoting Branson.”

A survivor from the family who lost nine relatives said the
captain told passengers not to bother grabbing life jackets.

An email message seeking comment from Ripley Entertainment about
Coleman’s comments was not immediately returned to Associated

Named for their ability to travel on land and in water, duck
boats have been involved in other serious accidents in the past,
including the deaths of more than 40 people since 1999.

Five college students were killed in 2015 in Seattle when a duck
boat collided with a bus. Thirteen people died in 1999 when a
boat sank near Hot Springs, Arkansas.

“Duck boats are death traps,” said Andrew Duffy, an attorney
whose Philadelphia law firm handled litigation related to two
fatal duck boat accidents there. “They’re not fit for water or
land because they are half car and half boat.”

Safety advocates have sought improvements and complained that too
many agencies regulate the boats with varying safety

The boats were originally designed for the military, specifically
to transport troops and supplies in World War II. They were later
modified for use as sightseeing vehicles.

The sheriff said Thursday that two duck boats were on the water
at the time of the storm. Both were headed back to land. One
returned safely. The other did not.

Divers quickly located the sunken vessel, which came to rest on
its wheels on the lakebed. Authorities planned to recover it at
some point in the next few days.

The boat sank in 40 feet (12 meters) of water and then rolled on
its wheels into a deeper area with 80 feet (25 meters) of water.

The Ride the Ducks tour begins in downtown Branson, where the
vehicles take passengers on a tour while the captain cracks jokes
and points out landmarks. Eventually, the boats pull up to the
lake and slowly enter the water with a small splash.

After a few minutes on the water, the vehicles return to land and
to their home base, which features a store selling candy and

Table Rock Lake, east of Branson, was created in the late 1950s
when the Corps of Army Engineers built a dam across the White
River to provide hydroelectric power to the Ozarks.

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