Nine members of the same family were among 17 people killed when a “duck boat” sank during a storm on Thursday on a Missouri lake in one of the deadliest US tourist tragedies in years.
The World War Two-style amphibious vehicle was carrying 31 passengers including children when the sudden “microburst” storm hit Table Rock Lake outside Branson, with waves slowly swamping the vehicle before it sank.
More than three dozen people have died in incidents involving duck boats on land and water in the United States over the past two decades.
Tia Coleman said she and her nephew were the only survivors from 11 members of their family who went on the “Ride The Ducks” tour.
“I lost all my children, I lost my husband,” Coleman told Indianapolis television channel Fox 59 from her hospital bed in Branson. “I’m OK, but this is really hard, just really hard.”
She said the captain of the boat told them when they were in the lake not to put their life jackets on, an action she believed cost lives. The crew was warned to get in and out of the lake quickly as a storm was approaching, she said.
The 17 victims were aged between 1 and 70 and came from six US states, authorities said. The included Arkansas residents Steve Smith and his son Lance, their church newspaper said. Smith’s daughter Loren survived. His wife opted not go on the tour, the paper said.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson said seven of the 14 survivors were injured, one seriously.
“Emergency responders and civilian rescuers helped avert an even worse tragedy as people rushed to help in extremely dangerous conditions,” Parson said in a statement.
The tragedy unfolded at around 7 p.m. (0000 GMT) on Thursday when thunderstorms rolled over the lake, churning the water into white-capped waves. Two duck vehicles were on the lake and headed back to shore but only one made it. The driver of the duck that sank was among those killed, officials said.
Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader told reporters that the boat’s captain survived.
“From what I understand there was life jackets in the duck,” Rader said, but he declined to say if passengers were wearing them.
The National Transportation Safety Board and US Coast Guard were investigating, officials said.
Jim Pattison, president of Ripley Entertainment, which owns the Branson “Ride The Ducks” tour company, said the strength of the storm was unexpected, but the duck boat should not have been in the lake.
“It shouldn’t have been in the water if what happened, happened,” Pattison told the CBS This Morning show.
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