‘Let me get to my babies’: Duck boat survivor who lost 9 family members tells story
The last thing Tia Coleman heard her sister-in-law say was, “Grab the baby.”
But in the end, out of her 11 family members on the duck boat Thursday, only she and her 13-year-old nephew Donovan Hall survived the fatal sinking at Table Rock Lake. In addition to the nine family members she lost, eight more passengers died in the accident.
Coleman, of Indianapolis, shared her story with a Springfield Television station, KOLR10, in a video interview from her hospital bed at CoxHealth Hospital in Branson, Mo. She is expected to make a full recovery.
Coleman said the duck boat tour typically begins on land and then goes into the water, but her ride started with the water portion due to the incoming storm.
The children on the boat were able to drive it before the captain took back over as the waves began getting choppy.
“Big swells of water started coming into the boat,” she said in the interview.
At this time, the captain pointed out the location of the life jackets on the vessel, she said, but told the passengers, “Don’t worry about it, you won’t need it.”
Coleman said everyone stayed in their seats, and that she believes no one grabbed a life jacket.
“When that boat is found, all those life jackets are gonna be on there. Because nobody pulled one off,” she said.
The waves became more and more rough, and then a huge wave swept over the duck boat.
It was then that Coleman’s sister-in-law yelled for someone to grab the baby.
As the boat began sinking, Coleman “lost control.”
“I didn’t have anybody with me. I couldn’t see anybody. And I know it wasn’t, but it felt like I struggled for at least an hour. But it was probably like 10 minutes.”
In the interview, Coleman did not share how she managed to escape the vessel — perhaps she herself doesn’t know — but said she remembers eventually floating up above the water and seeing “the big boat that sits out there.”
This was likely a reference to the Branson Belle, a nearby docked showboat whose passengers threw life jackets overboard to try to aid the victims. She swam to the showboat and held on, describing her arms and legs as feeling “so heavy, they were so heavy.” Eventually someone came and pulled her out of the water.
Coleman was one of 14 survivors.
Her family originally was not supposed to be on the vessel that sank. They had bought tickets for a 6 p.m. boat but arrived at the wrong location, so they decided to exchange their tickets for the 6:30 p.m. ride.
After her rescue, Coleman said Donovan ran up to her and said, “Auntie Tia, I couldn’t help him. I saw Reece. I tried, but I couldn’t help him.”
Reece, 9, was the oldest of Coleman’s children. The other eight family members who died in the tragedy are: Angela Coleman, 45; Arya Coleman, 1; Belinda Coleman, 69; Ervin Coleman, 76; Evan Coleman, 7; Glenn Coleman, 40; Horace Coleman, 70; and Maxwell Coleman, 2.
Coleman hugged Donovan and told him, “I’m glad you’re here with me.”
Friends of the Coleman Family started a GoFundMe to help Coleman and her family lay their nine relatives to rest. So far, over $40,000 has been raised out of a $500,000 goal.
“We are devastated by the unimaginable loss suffered by our friend and colleague Tia Coleman,” said Peg McLeish, Director of Communications at the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, where Coleman works as a paralegal. “The thoughts and prayers of our entire Marion County Prosecutor’s Office family are with Tia, her extended family and friends, and the other survivors of this tragic incident.”