Nine members of one family were among 17 people killed when an amphibious US tourist boat capsized during a sudden storm on a Missouri lake, a tragedy which raised renewed questions on Saturday about the safety of the craft known as “duck” boats.
The hybrid vessels, with wheels allowing them to drive on city roads but which can also travel on water, are popular with tourists in many cities.
The accident occurred Thursday night in full view of witnesses, at least one of whom captured video of the vessel bobbing in rough waters on Table Rock Lake near the city of Branson, a vacation destination popular for its theaters and country music.
“My heart is very heavy. Out of 11 of us there’s only two that’s surviving, that’s me and my nephew” Tia Coleman, her voice breaking, told Fox59 from her hospital bed.
“I lost all of my children. I lost my husband. I lost my mother-in-law and my father-in-law,” along with other relatives, she told the Indianapolis TV station.
Coleman said the boat’s captain had told passengers earlier in their trip that they “won’t need” life jackets.
“He said it when we were in the water,” she told Fox59. “When it was time to grab them, it was too late and I believe that a lot of people could have been spared.”
She added that the water “didn’t look ominous at the very first.”
Coleman told CNN affiliate KOLR of her own near-death by drowning: “I was yelling, I was screaming, and finally I said, ‘Lord, just let me die, let me die.’ She eventually floated to the surface.
Early Saturday, the Stone County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to AFP the identity of the 17 victims — nine of whom had the name Coleman.
They ranged in age from one-year-old Arya Coleman to the oldest victim Ervin Coleman, 76.
Five of the dead were aged 15 or younger.
Police said 31 people were aboard the vessel, which was covered by a canopy and was seen struggling to reach shore against strong winds before it succumbed to the waves and began to sink.
The dead included the boat’s driver, according to the sheriff’s office. The other crew member, who survived, was in charge when the craft took to the water, US media reported.
Several people were injured.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has taken over the investigation, which follows previous fatal accidents involving duck boats.
In 2002 the agency recommended that amphibious vehicles provide “reserve buoyancy” such as through watertight compartmentalization, to keep them afloat in the event of flooding.
The advisory followed the 1999 sinking of the Miss Majestic, a former US Army landing vehicle, with the loss of 13 lives in Hot Springs, Arkansas, because of “inadequate maintenance.”
Until reserve buoyancy retrofits were completed, the NTSB urged other safety measures including the removal of canopies, or installation of canopies that would not restrict passenger escape.
It also found that, at that time, the US Coast Guard lacked uniform, nationwide inspection policies for duck boats.