Survivor recounts boat accident that killed 9 family members

6 months 4 weeks 3 hours ago Sunday, July 22 2018 Jul 22, 2018 Sunday, July 22, 2018 9:59:07 AM CDT July 22, 2018 in News
By: The Associated Press

BRANSON (AP) — "Grab the baby!"

Those were the last words Tia Coleman recalls her sister-in-law yelling before the tourist boat they were on sank into a Missouri lake, killing 17 people, including nine of Coleman's family members.

A huge wave hit, scattering passengers on the vessel known as a duck boat into Table Rock Lake near Branson, Coleman said. When the Indianapolis woman came up for air, she was alone. She prayed.

"I said, 'Lord, please, let me get to my babies," she told reporters from her wheelchair Saturday in the lobby of a hospital where she's recovering after swallowing lake water. "'... If they don't make it, Lord, take me too. I don't need to be here.'"

Coleman recalled spotting the rescue boat and managed to reach it, "somehow." Earlier, from her hospital bed, she recounted to television station KOLR her sister-in-law's last words.

Coleman's husband and three children, ages 9, 7 and 1; her 45-year-old sister-in-law and 2-year-old nephew; her mother-in-law and father-in-law and her husband's uncle all died Thursday night in the deadliest accident of its kind in nearly two decades.

Others killed included a Missouri couple who had just celebrated a birthday; another Missouri couple on what was planned as their last extended vacation; an Illinois woman who died while saving her granddaughter's life; an Arkansas father and son; and a retired pastor who was the boat's operator.

None of the 31 passengers on board was wearing a life jacket, according to an incident report released Saturday by the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

State and federal investigators were trying to determine what sent the vessel, originally built for military use in World War II, 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 into the water.

Coleman said the crew told passengers they were going into the water first, before the land-based part of their tour, because of the incoming storm. The area had been under a severe thunderstorm watch for hours and a severe thunderstorm warning for more than 30 minutes before the boat sank.

Suzanne Smagala with Ripley Entertainment, which owns Ride the Ducks in Branson, said it was the company's only accident in more than 40 years of operation. The company hasn't commented on Coleman's account of the tour, which usually begins with a tour of downtown Branson, known for its country shows and entertainment, before the vessel enters the lake for a short ride on the water.

Company President Jim Pattison Jr. said the boat captain had 16 years of experience, and the business monitors weather.

Twenty-nine passengers and two crew members were aboard. Fourteen people survived, including two adults who remained hospitalized Saturday. Coleman and her 13-year-old nephew were the only of the 11 members of her family who boarded the boat to make it out alive.

Another survivor was 12-year-old Alicia Dennison, of Illinois, who says her grandmother, 64-year-old Leslie Dennison, saved her from drowning. Alicia's father, Todd Dennison, told the Kansas City Star that his daughter recalled feeling her grandmother below her, pushing her upward after the boat capsized.

Another young survivor was 14-year-old Loren Smith of Osceola, Arkansas. She suffered a concussion, but her father, 53-year-old retired math teacher Steve Smith, and her 15-year-old brother, Lance, died.

Others killed included 65-year-old William Bright and his 63-year-old wife, Janice. The couple had recently celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary and had talked about Branson being one of their last big trips, recalled neighbor Barbara Beck.

The couple moved to Higginsville from Kansas City, Missouri, three years earlier to be closer to a daughter and grandchildren and quickly embraced small-town life.

William Bright's final public Facebook posting noted the wedding anniversary and how happy he was with his wife, three kids and 16 grandchildren. Life, he wrote, had "been a lot of fun."

Another Missouri couple killed in the accident were 69-year-old William Asher and 68-year-old Rosemarie Hamann. The St. Louis-area couple had been celebrating Hamman's birthday earlier in the week. In a final Facebook photo posted by Hamann, he's sticking his tongue out and she's smiling.

"I can only imagine what they were going through. They were so in love. It's just heartbreaking," said friend Russ McKay, who said talked to Hamann the day before the accident.

McCay says Hamann told him the couple had just gone on a paddle boat and were planning to go again. He doesn't know why they chose the duck boat instead.

Chance also brought the Colemans aboard the doomed vessel.

Tia Coleman said her family initially lined up for the wrong tour so they had to switch out their tickets for the 6:30 p.m. ride.

She says the crew showed passengers where the life jackets were but said they wouldn't need them.

The company's website had been taken down by Saturday, save for a statement that its operations would remain shuttered to support the investigation and allow time for families and the community to grieve.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board and U.S. Coast Guard were hoping a video recorder recovered from the boat would help provide some explanation on why it sank. NTSB member Earl Weener winds were 2 mph short of hurricane force at the time.

While the boat's driver on water, 51-year-old Kenneth McKee, survived; its driver on land, 73-year-old Bob Williams, did not.

Branson Mayor Karen Best said Williams was a "great ambassador" for the city. Williams' family in Rhode Island, where he'd lived for decades before retiring to Branson, remembered him as a deeply religious man who founded a local church.

"Pastor Bob was a prince of a man, loving, kind, and generous, whose loss to our family is incalculable," said Williams' son-in-law, Bishop Jeffery Williams, who now leads King's Cathedral in Providence.

___

Associated Press writers Philip Marcelo in Boston; John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas; Sara Burnett in Chicago; Roxana Hegeman in Wichita, Kansas; Brian Slodysko in Indianapolis; Hannah Grabenstein in Branson; Jim Salter in St. Louis; and AP researcher Monika Mathur in New York contributed to this report.

___

For the latest updates on this story: https://bit.ly/2mz71K1

More News

Grid
List
COLUMBIA - A break from precipitation will continue through Tuesday morning and early afternoon before our next system pushes in... More >>
8 hours ago Sunday, February 17 2019 Feb 17, 2019 Sunday, February 17, 2019 6:45:00 PM CST February 17, 2019 in Weather
AURORA, Ill. (AP) — An initial background check failed to detect a felony conviction that should have barred the man... More >>
10 hours ago Sunday, February 17 2019 Feb 17, 2019 Sunday, February 17, 2019 4:34:00 PM CST February 17, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - A fire destroyed the interior of a north Columbia home and cause a "total loss", according to Boone... More >>
14 hours ago Sunday, February 17 2019 Feb 17, 2019 Sunday, February 17, 2019 12:00:00 PM CST February 17, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA (AP) — MU saw an uptick in reports of discrimination and harassment in the 2017-2018 school year from the... More >>
16 hours ago Sunday, February 17 2019 Feb 17, 2019 Sunday, February 17, 2019 10:43:00 AM CST February 17, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - Yoga Gives CoMo hosted its annual puppy yoga with over a hundred people in attendance at Bur Oak... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, February 16 2019 Feb 16, 2019 Saturday, February 16, 2019 11:00:00 PM CST February 16, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - One man received minor injuries after a firetruck overturned while responding to a call early Sunday morning. ... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, February 16 2019 Feb 16, 2019 Saturday, February 16, 2019 11:00:00 PM CST February 16, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - It's been 50 years since a historic moment occurred on MU's campus Community members met Saturday... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, February 16 2019 Feb 16, 2019 Saturday, February 16, 2019 10:41:00 PM CST February 16, 2019 in News
OXFORD, MISS. - The Missouri Tigers fell short in Saturday's game against Mississippi, losing 75-65. The Tigers made the... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, February 16 2019 Feb 16, 2019 Saturday, February 16, 2019 10:03:00 PM CST February 16, 2019 in Sports
COLUMBIA - City plow crews are continuing to clear snow covered streets as they prepare for more winter weather overnight.... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, February 16 2019 Feb 16, 2019 Saturday, February 16, 2019 9:08:00 PM CST February 16, 2019 in News
STURGEON - A judge ordered the city of Sturgeon to reinstate Greg Halderman as its police chief, according to court... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, February 16 2019 Feb 16, 2019 Saturday, February 16, 2019 5:05:00 PM CST February 16, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - One person is dead after a pair of crashes Saturday afternoon. Jordan E. Hoyt, 37, died after... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, February 16 2019 Feb 16, 2019 Saturday, February 16, 2019 4:29:00 PM CST February 16, 2019 in News
JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Mike Parson and First Lady Teresa opened up the grounds of the Governor's Mansion on Saturday... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, February 16 2019 Feb 16, 2019 Saturday, February 16, 2019 4:13:00 PM CST February 16, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA – Money raised at the 14 th annual Rootin’ Tootin’ Chili Cookoff on Saturday afternoon will benefit the Columbia... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, February 16 2019 Feb 16, 2019 Saturday, February 16, 2019 3:42:00 PM CST February 16, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - Even with slick sidewalks and snowy roads, runners still showed up for Mizzou's Rockin' Against Multiple Sclerosis 5K... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, February 16 2019 Feb 16, 2019 Saturday, February 16, 2019 2:54:00 PM CST February 16, 2019 in News
(CNN) -- Sixty-three more people have been infected with salmonella linked to raw turkey products in an outbreak that began... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, February 16 2019 Feb 16, 2019 Saturday, February 16, 2019 12:27:00 PM CST February 16, 2019 in News
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has defrocked former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after Vatican officials found him guilty of... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, February 16 2019 Feb 16, 2019 Saturday, February 16, 2019 7:25:00 AM CST February 16, 2019 in News
SARCOXIE, Mo. (AP) — The Jasper County prosecutor on Thursday charged a 23-year-old English teacher at Sarcoxie High School with... More >>
2 days ago Friday, February 15 2019 Feb 15, 2019 Friday, February 15, 2019 9:56:18 PM CST February 15, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - Battle High School's Girls Wrestling team will make history by competing in the first high school girls state... More >>
2 days ago Friday, February 15 2019 Feb 15, 2019 Friday, February 15, 2019 8:56:00 PM CST February 15, 2019 in News
Columbia, MO
Broken Clouds 25°
3am 25°
4am 24°
5am 24°
6am 23°