Duck boat survivor gives extraordinary account of the disaster that killed 9 members of her family

  • A survivor of the duck boat disaster in Missouri has given an extraordinary account of the ordeal, in which she lost nine members of her family.
  • During an emotional press conference, Tia Coleman described the moment the boat sank, her swim for survival, and losing her family, including her husband and three children.
  • She said passengers were told by the captain not to wear life jackets, despite the oncoming storm. Her family could have been saved, had they been strapped up with the safety devices, she added.
  • Coleman said returning home will be difficult because her house has always been filled with “little feet and laughter.”

Tia Coleman, a survivor of the duck boat disaster that killed 17 in Missouri on Thursday, has given an extraordinary account of the ordeal.

Nine of Coleman’s relatives, including her husband and three children, died in the accident when an amphibious boat capsized on Table Rock Lake. Coleman’s 13-year-old nephew, Donovan Hall, was the only other member of her family to survive.

Speaking during an emotional press conference at the Cox Medical Center Branson, where Coleman has been receiving hospital treatment, she described the moment the boat sank, her swim for survival, losing her family, and returning home.

The family boarded the boat after having their tickets swapped from an earlier tour. She said the 31 passengers on board were told by the captain that a storm was coming, but that life jackets were not needed.

Coleman previously told local news channel KOLR that a “really huge wave” swept over the boat, and the last thing she heard was her sister-in-law shouting “grab the baby.”

The water filled up the boat and blinded her, she said, but she was thinking “I got to get out, I got to get out.” Coleman hit her head, but managed to free herself from the boat, entering icy water near the bottom of the lake.

“I knew I was close to the bottom,” she recalled. “I just remember kicking and swimming to the top. As I was swimming up I was praying ‘Lord, let me get to my babies.’ The harder I fought to get to the top, I was getting pulled down.

“And I kept fighting and kept fighting, and then I said ‘Lord if I can’t make it, there’s no use in keeping me here.’ And so I just let go and I started floating and as I started floating, I felt the water temperature change and it got warmer. As it got warmer I knew I was to the top. So I stuck my hand out.”

When Coleman emerged, she was eventually hauled out of the water by rescuers on a nearby riverboat. “Somehow I managed to get to the boat and these beautiful people, angels… they pulled me up. And when they pulled me up onto the boat I didn’t see any of my family,” she said.

Coleman said her family could have been saved by life jackets. “The biggest thing that stood out to me is I felt like if I was able to get a life jacket I could have saved my babies because they could have at least floated up to the top and somebody would have grabbed them,” she explained.

Coleman is not sure if she is happy to be alive, but said: “God must have something for me because there’s no way I should be here.” Nearly $US240,000 has been raised for the family through crowdfunding website Go Fund Me.

Coleman said returning home will be “completely difficult.” She added: “I don’t know how I’m going to do it. Since I’ve had a home it’s always been filled. It’s always been filled with little feet and laughter, and my husband. I don’t know how I’m gonna do it.”

You can watch the full Tia Coleman news conference here:

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