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Nine Indiana family members among victims who died in Branson duck boat accident

Nine Indiana family members among victims who died in Branson duck boat accident

Megan Henry, IndyStar, and wire services
Published 4:58 p.m. ET July 20, 2018 | Updated 7:51 p.m. ET July 20, 2018


Divers found four more bodies Friday in a Missouri lake where a duck boat packed with tourists capsized and sank in high winds, bringing the death toll to 17 in the country-and-western town of Branson, authorities said. (July 20)

Nine members of an Indiana family were among the 17 people who died when an amphibious duck boat capsized Thursday night during a severe thunderstorm in Branson, Missouri.

“It’s really difficult to place an emotion on it,” said Kyrie Rose, whose husband’s family was on the boat. “All of our hearts just hurt.”

Rose, an Indianapolis resident, said the family would typically go on vacation once a year together. Her husband is a cousin and was not on the boat.

“They were definitely a very close-knit, loving family,” Rose said.

Two of the 11 family members aboard the boat survived. IndyStar was able to confirm through family connections and social media some of the adult members of the Coleman family who died: Glenn Coleman, Horace “Butch” Coleman, Belinda Coleman, Ray Coleman and Angela Coleman.

Rose said the two survivors, her nephew and the family’s mother, are doing well under the circumstances but still grappling with what has happened and what’s next.

“They are trying to piece all that together, and it’s been pretty rough,” Rose said.

The names and ages of all the victims were not immediately available Friday evening.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s office confirmed that nine members of one family died in the accident and two other members of the family survived, USA Today reported. Parson said other details of the accident remained unclear as local, state and federal authorities began an investigation.

“My heart is very heavy. Out of 11 of us, only two of us surviving — that’s me and my nephew,” family member Tia Coleman told FOX59. “I lost all my children, my brother-in-law.”

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The Ride the Ducks tourist boat, a hybrid land and water vehicle, had 31 people on board on Table Rock Lake when the incident happened near the Showboat Branson Belle.

At least 17 people, including children, were killed when the boat capsized. At least seven other passengers were injured, including two in serious condition.

A line of thunderstorms blew through between 6:15 and 6:30 p.m., Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said. Rader said it was too early to know the cause of the incident. 

He said there were life jackets in the boat, but it was unclear how the safety equipment was used. He said the captain of the boat, who has 16 years of experience, survived, but the driver did not.

Rader said it was unknown whether the captain or the boat staff checked the forecast prior to going on the lake.

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

The weather service station in Springfield, about 40 miles 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.

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.

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 requirements.

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.

A full investigation was underway, with help from the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board.

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

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Call IndyStar reporter Megan Henry at (317) 444-6032. Follow her on Twitter: @megankhenry. 

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