‘Don’t worry about life jackets – you won’t need them’: Survivor whose NINE relatives – including her husband and kids – drowned on Missouri duck boat, claims captain waved them away from vests

  • Survivor of duck boat sinking says passengers told they didn’t need life jackets
  • Tia Coleman, who lost nine family members on Thursday, is one of 14 who lived
  • She says there would have been more survivors if they’d all been in life jackets
  • Of 31 passengers and crew, 17 died on the Missouri lake on Thursday night
  • Four of the fatalities were children, with oldest victim being 73 years old
  • The duck boat they were on was built in 1944, the US Coast Guard said 
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A woman who lost nearly her entire family on a doomed duck boat ride in Missouri on Thursday night says passengers were told: ‘don’t worry about grabbing the life jackets’.

Tia Coleman, who lost nine members of her family, including her husband and her three children, was one of only 14 people who survived when the Ride the Ducks boat capsized on Table Rock Lake in Branson, during a sudden and severe storm.

She told FOX 59 11 members of the family, including herself, had been on board at the time. ‘My heart is very heavy,’ she said. 

‘When it was time to grab them, it was too late,’ she said. ‘A lot of people could have been spared.’ 

DailyMail.com has attempted to contact Ripley’s Entertainment for comment on Tia’s claims. It is legal to be on a commercial vessel without a life jacket in Missouri. 

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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 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’.

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

Only Tia 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.

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.’ 


Seventeen people were killed on Thursday night when a Ride the Ducks duck boat capsized during a severe storm over the Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri.

Among them were a hero grandmother, a ‘community legend’ football coach and a recently baptized 15-year-old boy. 

Nine members of one family were also killed, with another two managing to survive the horrific ordeal. 


Nine of the 11 members of the Coleman family who boarded the boat on Thursday were killed, including four children under the age of 10.

Horace ‘Butch’ Coleman, 70, the family patriarch, was remembered on social media as a ‘community legend’, who spent more than 40 years volunteering in his local area.

His wife, Belinda Coleman, 69, and his brother, Irving Raymond Coleman, 76, were also killed, as were Belinda’s cousins, Angela Coleman, 45, and Glenn Coleman, 40.

Angela’s two-year-old son Maxwell died in the tragic accident, as did Glenn’s sons Evan, 7, and Reece, 9, and his one-year-old daughter Arya.

From top left: Butch Coleman, Ray Coleman, Glenn Coleman, Angela Coleman (seen holding Maxwell). From bottom left: Reece Coleman, Belinda Coleman and Evan Coleman 


Christian church deacon Steve Smith, 53, and his 15-year-old son Lance also drowned when the boat capsized on Thursday.

Smith’s daughter, Loren, survived, and his wife Pamela was not on the boat.

A family friend wrote on Twitter Pamela had decided to go shopping instead of joining her family on board the doomed boat.

Church deacon Steve Smith (left) and his recently baptized 15-year-old son Lance (pictured in last known photo of him, right) were among those killed. Steve’s daughter Loren was taken to hospital, but survived

Bill Asher (right) and Rose Hamman (left), were also killed. The couple were on their last night of vacation when they boarded the boat


Bill Asher, 69, and his girlfriend Rose Hamman, 68, were also identified as among the dead by friends on Facebook on Friday afternoon.

Bill and Rose had been on a week-long holiday in Branson, and had spent their last evening away on the duck boat, friend Mary Ogborn Kientzy said. 


Grandmother Leslie Dennison, 64, was on the boat with her 12-year-old granddaughter Alicia. 

Her son Todd said on Thursday his daughter, who is recovering in hospital, said she could feel Leslie pushing her up as the boat filled with water.

‘She said her grandmother saved her,’ he told the paper. Leslie is being mourned as a ‘true hero’.

Leslie Dennison (second from left) died saving her 12-year-old granddaughter Alicia. She is being mourned as a hero 


Robert ‘Bob’ Williams, 73, was driving the boat when it went down in Table Rock Lake.

Williams worked for Ride the Ducks, the boat tour company which owned the vessel, but had previously worked as a pastor. 

Friends and family paid tribute to him on Friday as a God-fearing family man.

Pictured: Robert ‘Bob’ Williams, who was driving the boat when it went down


William and Janice Bright, aged 65 and 63, had been in Branson celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary on Thursday.

The couple have three daughters and 16 grandchildren – their 17th was on the way. 

William and Janice Bright, 65 and 64, were among the 17 people killed in the duck boat tragedy. The couple were on holiday celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary when they lost their lives on Thursday

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

  • NINE members of the same family are among 17 killed in… ‘This history of death goes back decades’: At least 36…

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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. 

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