Survivor of fatal duck boat ride recalls “life-altering” event

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BRANSON, Mo. (KOLR) — “I couldn’t see anybody, I couldn’t hear anything,” said Tia Coleman, a survivor of the “Ride the Ducks” boat accident on Table Rock Lake.

“I couldn’t hear screams; it felt like I was out there on my own. And I was yelling, screaming, and finally, I said Lord, just let me die, let me die, I can’t keep drowning, I just can’t keep drowning. And then I just let go.”

Tia Coleman, who was critically injured from that accident, is part of the Indianapolis family that lost nine members when the boat sank Thursday night.

That family called News 2’a sister station KOLR, hoping to share their story.

Tia said the family goes on vacations together all the time.

When she and her family got to Branson, they went to the wrong duck boat business. But they switched out their tickets for the 6:30 ride.

Less than an hour later, Coleman would be one of two members of her family on that boat ride to survive.

A duck boat tour usually travels on land and water. Coleman said she was told this tour would go on the water excursion first due to the incoming storm.

Coleman described the captain taking over when they reached the lake:

“Once he takes over, this big huge waves choppy, everybody started getting like, ‘Hey, this is getting a little bit too much,'” said Coleman, “and then it got really choppy, and big swells of water started coming into the boat. Then a really huge wave swept over, and when that wave swept over, the last thing I heard my sister-in-law say was ‘grab the baby.'”

That’s when the boat started sinking.

“My head pushed up to the top of the water, and I lost control. I didn’t have anybody with me,” Coleman described. “I couldn’t see anybody. And I know it wasn’t, but I felt like I struggled for at least an hour, but it was probably like 10 minutes. And I just remembered I kept sinking; I kept sinking.”

She was drowning and described the water as being very cold.

“And I started floating,” Coleman said, “I was floating up to the top. I felt the water temperature raise to warm, and as I felt the water temperature raise, I jumped up and I saw the big boat that sits out there.”

It was a rescue boat with people throwing life jackets into the water.

“And I said, ‘Jesus, please keep me; just keep me so I can get to my children,” said Coleman. “Keep me, Lord.’ I kept swimming; I was swimming as fast as I could. And I couldn’t reach the life jackets.”

She had to swim to the rescue boat.

“I swam over to the boat, and I was holding on,” described Coleman, “but my legs and arms were so heavy from trying. They were so heavy. It was so heavy.”

She was then transferred to a hospital, where she was recovering Friday night. 

Coleman talked about the nine family members she was with, starting with her sister-in-law.

“She was there with her 13-year-old, soon to be 3-year-old, I was there, with my husband and our three children,” said Coleman, “who were 9, 7, and 1. My in-laws were there, my mother-in-law and my father-in-law and the uncle that lives with them.”

 She also said there were life jackets on board.

“They told us, ‘They’re up here; this is where they are.’ They showed us where they were. ‘But don’t worry about it; you won’t need it.’ And we said, ‘OK.’ So when the captain took over, I thought that at some point he would say, ‘Grab the jackets now.’ But we were told to stay seated, and everybody stayed seated. Nobody grabbed it. When that boat is found, all those life jackets are going to be in there. Nobody pulled one off. You weren’t supposed to grab them unless you were in distress, which we were, but he told us, ‘We don’t need them.’ It was, I don’t know what to say, definitely life-changing, life-altering event.”

The only other surviving family member on that boat ride was her 13-year-old nephew.

Tia said she doesn’t know when she will be able to leave the hospital, but the doctors said they are optimistic that she is on the path to a full recovery.

The victims of the boat ride have been identified as: 

William Asher, 69, St. Louis, Mo.

Rosemarie Hamann, 68, St. Louis Mo.

Janice Bright, 63, Higginsville, Mo.

William Bright, 65, Higginsville, Mo.

Angela Coleman, 45, Indianapolis, Ind.

Arya Coleman, 1, Indianapolis, Ind.

Belinda Coleman, 69, Indianapolis, Ind.

Ervin Coleman, 76, Indianapolis, Ind.

Evan Coleman, 7, Indianapolis, Ind.

Glenn Coleman, 40, Indianapolis, Ind.

Horace Coleman, 70, Indianapolis, Ind.

Maxwell Coleman, 2, Indianapolis, Ind.

Reece Coleman, 9, Indianapolis, Ind.

Leslie Dennison, 64, Illinois.

Bob Williams, 73, Branson, Mo.

Lance Smith, 15, Osceola, Ark.

Steve Smith, 53, Osceola, Ark.

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