The first of the 17 victims of a Missouri boat crash have been identified and include nine people from the same family.
The ‘duck boat’, a hybrid land-to-water vehicle, capsized on Table Rock Lake near the town Branson due to a sudden storm.
What should have been a pleasant 70-minute tour of the Ozarks region turned to tragedy for the Coleman family of Indiana who were only on that particular boat because of a ticket mix-up, according to Tia Coleman, who was one of only two survivors from her family along with nephew Donovan, 13.
The Stone County Sheriff’s Department said the victims included Angela Coleman, 45; Belinda Coleman, 69; Ervin Coleman, 76; Glenn Coleman, 40; Horace Coleman, 70; and four children – one-year-old Arya, two-year-old Maxwell, seven-year-old Evan and nine-year-old Reece.
Ms Coleman’s husband and all three children were among the victims.
“The last thing I heard my sister-in-law yell was, ‘Grab the baby!’” Ms Coleman said to journalists from her hospital bed.
She also said the boat’s captain, who survived, told passengers: “Don’t worry about grabbing the life jackets. You won’t need them.
“We were told to stay seated and everybody stay seated,” she said, adding “when that boat is found, all those life jackets are going to be on there”.
Kim Thomas, Ms Coleman’s cousin, told CBS News “in doing that, when it was time to grab them, it was too late and I believe that a lot of people could have been spared”.
About her family’s devastating loss, she said: “The kids are doing better than we are. We have to live in this world; they have gone to the other side.”
Missouri governor Mike Parson tried to make sense of the tragic incident, which police are still investigating. “It’s difficult to find the right words to say,” he told CNN.
President Donald Trump tweeted his condolences to the victims’ families, and wrote: “Such a tragedy, such a great loss. May God be with you all!”
There were 31 people on board the Ride the Ducks tour boat when it sank in 40ft (12m) of water during the thunderstorm shortly after 7pm local time on Thursday.
Only 14 people survived.
A second boat made it safely back to shore.
“There was some heavy wind. It was having problems through the wind,” Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said. “They were coming back towards land. There was actually two ducks. The first one made it out. The second one didn’t.”
Mr Parson indicated the weather had been calm on Thursday evening and the devastating storm “came out of nowhere”. Jim Pattison Jr, president of the Ride the Duck Branson’s parent company Ripley Entertainment, said: “My understanding was that when the boat went in the water, it was calm. And partway through coming back is when ... the waves picked up and then obviously swamped the boat.”
Video footage shot by a witness from the shore and broadcast by local media showed strong waves tossing two duck boats side to side during the storm.
Steve Lindenberg, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Springfield, Missouri, said the agency had issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the Branson area on Thursday evening ahead of winds of more than 60mph.
“It’s a warning telling people to take shelter,” he said.
It is unclear at this time if or why that warning had been ignored.
Suzanne Smagala-Potts, a spokeswoman for Ripley Entertainment, said the boat’s sinking was the Branson tour’s first accident in more than 40 years of operation.
She could not confirm how many crew members were aboard the boat.
The incident rocked the quiet resort town of Branson, which has a population of about 10,000 people and is 200 miles southeast of Kansas City.
Hundreds of people from the community, along with tourists, came together for a candlelight vigil for the 17 victims and broke out in tears, singing “Amazing Grace”, “How Great Thou Art” and “It is Well With My Soul”.
The victims’ cars, left in a nearby parking lot ahead of the tour, were adorned with flowers, stuffed animals, balloons and handwritten notes expressing condolences.
William Asher, 69; Rosemarie Hamann, 68; Janice Bright, 63, and William Bright, 65, were the victims from Missouri. Steve Smith, 53, and Lance Smith, 15, were also from Indiana. Leslie Dennison, 64, was from Illinois.