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Passengers and crew aboard an amphibious tour boat that capsized Thursday in Missouri killing 17 were aware of impending bad weather, according to a survivor of the tragedy who lost nine family members.
Tia Coleman told her local Fox News affiliate, Fox59 of Indianapolis, in an interview from her hospital bed Friday that the crew was told to change the order of its tour, which goes over both land and onto a lake, to go out on the water first to avoid the coming storming.
“There was a warning…the warning people said take them out to the water first, before the storm hits,” she said.
The Ride the Duck Branson tour boat sank Thursday evening in heavy winds and waves as it tried to return to shore on Table Rock Lake, near Branson, Mo., in the Ozark Mountains, said Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader. Passengers of a paddle-wheel style riverboat looked on helplessly as the duck boat struggled through large waves and eventually took on water over the bow, a video of the incident showed.
The paddle-wheel boat never left the dock, but members of the crew and a Stone County deputy aboard jumped into the water to help rescue survivors, the sheriff said.
There were 31 passengers aboard the boat. Fourteen people survived, with half of those injured, one seriously, according to Sgt. Jason Pace of the Missouri Highway Patrol. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident.
The captain of the boat survived, officials said, but hasn’t been identified. The pilot of the vessel died, according to officials.
The first 911 calls came in at 7:09 p.m. Thursday, the sheriff said, a little more than half an hour after a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for the area.
Jim Pattison Jr.
, president and CEO of Ripley Entertainment, owner of the boat, told CNN on Friday that the trouble came up quickly. “My understanding is that when the boat went into the water, it was calm,” but that conditions worsened significantly as the boat began returning to shore, he said.
The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.
In a statement Friday the company said the Ride the Ducks attraction would be closed indefinitely and that the company was doing all it could to support the families of the survivors.
“This incident has deeply affected all of us,” the statement said. “Words cannot convey how profoundly our hearts are breaking. We will continue to do all we can to assist the families who were involved.”
Ms. Coleman said the water looked calm when the boat first entered the lake. “The water didn’t look ominous at the very first; it looked like normal water, and then it started looking really choppy,” she said.
Ms. Coleman also said during the interview that the captain had told people on the vessel once they were on the water, that there would be no need to grab life jackets.
“I want to say that, my husband would want me to say this: He would want the world to know that on this boat we were on, the captain had told us don’t worry about grabbing the life jackets you won’t need them,” she said. “So nobody grabbed them, because we listened to the captain as he told us to stay seated,” she continued. “However, in doing that, when it was time to grab them, it was too late, and I believe that a lot of people could have been spared.”
Late Friday, the Stone County Sheriff released a list of the deceased. Missouri residents were William Asher, 69, Rosemarie Hamann, 68, Janice Bright, 63, William Bright, 65, and Bob Williams, 73. Indiana residents were Angela Coleman, 45, Arya Coleman, 1, Belinda Coleman, 69, Ervin Coleman, 76, Evan Coleman, 7, Glenn Coleman, 40, Horace Coleman, 70, Maxwell Coleman, 2, and Reece Coleman, 9. Leslie Dennison, 64, of Illinois, also died. Lance Smith, 15, and Steve Smith, 53, were from Arkansas.
Many of the victims were on vacation with their families.
Steve and Lance Smith, father and son from Osceola, Ark., were active members of the Osceola Church of Christ, according to a
post by pastor Will Hester. Mr. Hester said Steve Smith was a deacon at the church and Lance had just been baptized late last year. “My heart breaks, but I know where they are, and I know that I will see them again!” he wrote.
Horace “Butch” Coleman was a longtime coach for an Indianapolis youth football league, vacationing with three generations of his family, according to a post by Anthony King. He described the 70-year-old Mr. Coleman as a community legend and a loving father and grandfather, and said his heart was heavy that he had died, along with so many of his family members.
Leslie Dennison was on a daytrip with her granddaughter. Ms. Dennison died after successfully pushing her granddaughter to safety, said Brian Dennison, one of Ms. Dennison’s sons, in a Facebook post. He said she was a hero. Ms. Dennison loved her granddaughter “more than anything,” he said.
Duck boats have been involved in a number of fatal accidents over the years. In May 1999, 13 peopled died in Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs, Ark., when a duck boat took on water and sank suddenly. An NTSB report after the accident blamed poor maintenance and recommended that the boats remove canopies that can trap passengers inside when a boat sinks.
In July 2010, two people died in the Delaware River off Philadelphia when a duck boat suffered an engine fire and was hit by a barge. The NTSB found maintenance problems with the duck boat and criticized the inattentiveness of the barge pilot.
The accident has cast fresh concerns about the safety of the duck-style tourist boats, many of which are modified versions of World War II-era troop transports.
“I would never let my family go in one of these boats,” said Eric Sorensen, an expert in small-craft design and safety, and author of “Sorensens’ Guide to Powerboats.”
He said the hard tops put on many of the boats raises the ship’s center of gravity and serves to trap passengers inside when a boat capsizes or sinks. Side windows also reduce escape routes for passengers.
He contrasted the enclosure on these boats with hard topped life boats that can withstand ocean waves and are designed to keep ocean water out. Hard tops on duck-style boats aren’t “keeping the ocean out of the boat, they are keeping the people in,” he said.
He also noted that distributing life preservers to people inside the boats wouldn’t necessarily be helpful.
“I would not have put a life jacket on,” he said. “All that will do as the boat sinks is it will hold you against the side of the hardtop. You’re pinned up there.”
—James Oberman and Valerie Bauerlein contributed to this article.