‘The captain was freaking out,’ teen survivor tells mom of Missouri duck boat sinking

Mandi Keller, of Cisco, Texas, said her daughter Gillian, 15, was on board the duck boat that sank at Table Rock Lake near Branson, Mo., Thursday. Her daughter was with her father and members of his family, all of whom survived.

Keller said the group was “shaken” and “traumatized” by what they experienced.

“None of them ever want to get on a boat again,” Keller said. “Not one of them.”

Keller said she was at work at home in Texas when Gillian called after the boat sank. She couldn’t understand Gillian in the frenzy, and it took a couple hours to find out the rest of the family had survived.

“She’s sad — very sad,” Keller said. “She’s only 15 and she witnessed a lot of lives lost, and she’s traumatized.”

When the boat started to sink, Keller said she thought it was “total and utter chaos.”

“Gillian said the captain was freaking out,” Keller said. “She said, ‘I was freaking out because he was freaking out.’”

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When the boat submerged, Keller said the canopy was on and the windows were sealed, but her ex-husband said the captain had a moment of clarity and was able to release the canopy of the boat.

“They were all closed,” Keller said her daughter told her. “The windows were closed and the top was on. They were all stuck in there until that top came off.”

Gillian is a strong, hard-headed young woman, Keller said. And she proved that when she had to get out of the boat. Keller said Gillian told her she thought she was going to die.

“She said the thought popped in her head, ‘I’m not dying today,’ and the top came off, and she said, ‘It was so hard to get out of the boat, Mom. It was so hard to get out of the boat.’”

In all, 17 people died on the boat and 14 survived.

Gillian and fellow family members are still in Branson, but Keller said when she gets home, she wants to wrap her arms around her daughter and never let her go.

“I want to hold her,” Keller said.

Keller said she was grateful the family had survived, but she was thinking and praying for everyone affected.

“It was just really horrific for everyone — every person there, every person watching, every person on shore, everybody,” Keller said.

Someone on the shore in Branson who lent Gillian a phone to call her mom reached out later to check on Keller and see how she was doing.