‘I Could Have Saved My Babies’: Mother Shares Anguish After ‘Duck Boat’ Sinking

Tia Coleman confirmed life jackets were on board but said the captain told passengers not to bother.

A mother has shared her anguish over not being able to save her three children, who were among nine members of her family killed in a tragic ‘duck boat’ accident in the US.

Authorities on Saturday confirmed at least 17 people died when the Missouri tourist boat capsized and sank in Table Rock Lake outside the tourist town of Branson during a sudden storm on Thursday.

As a full investigation examines questions surrounding life jackets, weather and the actions of crew, brave survivor Tia Coleman spoke to media.

Survivor Tia Coleman lost nine family members in the tragedy. Image: AAP

“Since I’ve had a home, it has always been filled … filled with little feet and laughter and my husband. I don’t know how I’m going to do it,” she said.

Coleman lost her husband and three children aged one, seven and nine, as well as an uncle, a nephew, her father-in-law, mother-in-law and sister-in-law --  a family who had been enjoying a holiday together.

She spoke of floating to the water’s surface and being pulled to safety by “beautiful people -- angels”, as well as the frantic scramble to find her family.

A man looks at an idled duck boat in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks. Image: AAP

While Coleman confirmed life jackets were on board, she said the captain told passengers not to bother.

“If I was able to get a life jacket, I could have saved my babies."

“He said, above you are your life jackets, there are three sizes. He said I’m going to show you where they are, but you won’t need them , so no need to worry,” she said.

“So we didn’t grab them.”

Twenty-nine passengers and two crew members were aboard for a pleasure cruise on Thursday evening. The captain survived, authorities said, with seven of the 14 survivors also hurt when the vessel went down. 

Five people from Missouri who were also killed in the tragedy have been identified as 69-year-old William Asher, 68-year-old Rosemarie Hamann, 63-year-old Janice Bright and 65-year-old William Bright.  Robert "Bob" Williams, 73, has been identified as the crew member operating the boat. 

"He was a great ambassador for Branson," Mayor Karen Best said. "He was at every event. He knew everyone. He was always promoting Branson."

Leslie Dennison, a 64-year-old from Illinois, Lance and Steve Smith, 15 and 53, from Arkansas were the final three victims.

Mallory Cunningham, left, Santino Tomasetti, center, and Aubrey Reece attend a candlelight vigil in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks on Friday. Image: AAP

Duck boats have in the past been involved in other serious accidents, with questions around safety dangers re-emerging.

A private inspector has said he warned the company operating the watercraft about design flaws that may put them at greater risk of sinking less than one year ago.

Steve Paul, owner of the Test Drive Technologies inspection service, on Saturday said he issued a written report for the company in August 2017.

The report explained why the boats’ engines -- and pumps that remove water from their hulls -- might fail in harsh weather.

Paul also told The Associated Press the tourist boats’ canopies make them difficult to escape from when they sink -- a concern raised by regulators following a similar fatal sinking in Arkansas in 1999.

A witness video of the duck boat just before it capsized has emerged, suggesting that its flexible plastic windows might have been closed and could have trapped passengers as the hybrid boat-truck went down.

Questions are also being raised over whether storm warnings went unheeded and whether agencies can keep boaters off the water when testing conditions approach.

With AAP.