Tia Coleman was one of 31 people riding on a Ride the Ducks Branson amphibious vessel when the craft began to sink in the rough lake water whipped up by a fast-moving thunderstorm.
Coleman, one of 14 people who survived after the boat went under the water, told CNN affiliate KOLR she was shouting but couldn’t hear or see anyone else. She had been on board with 10 members of her family, according to KOLR.
“And I was yelling, I was screaming, and finally I said, ‘Lord, just let me die, let me die,’ I said. ‘I can’t keep drowning, I just can’t keep drowning,’” she told KOLR.
“And then I just let go and I started floating. And I was floating up to the top. I felt the water temperature raise to warm,” she said. “And then I felt the temperature raise, I jumped up and I saw the big boat that sits out there,” she of spotting a riverboat that was docked nearby.
People were throwing out life jackets.
Water conditions on Table Rock Lake near the Missouri tourist mecca of Branson has deteriorated rapidly after a storm that had raced across the Midwest earlier Thursday rolling in with strong gusts.
Another Ride the Ducks boat was nearby but made it to shore, ahead of the one Coleman was on.
“We got out of it and made it to the ramp. And I turned around and watched the other boat nose-dive, and my heart dropped,” passenger Kourtney Parker said.
Onlookers desperately tried to help as the duck boat began to sink in 40 feet of water. One group pulled an unconscious woman out of the water. An off-duty law enforcement officer dove into the choppy waters.
There were life jackets on the boat, but Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said he doesn’t know whether people were wearing them.
Early Saturday, the Stone County Sheriff’s Office released the names of all 17 people who died.
Nine victims had the surname Coleman, including four children – the youngest just 1 year old. According to KOLR, Tia Coleman was one of just two members of her family who survived.
Seventeen people, ranging in age from 1 to 76 years old, died, authorities said.
Investigators are now looking into questions about the accident, including ones about the weather, the life jacket situation, the boat and the actions of the crew, officials with the National Transportation Safety Board and Coast Guard said.
By late Friday morning, all 17 bodies had been recovered, US Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Tasha Sadowicz said.
The Coast Guard will conduct an investigation, said Sgt. Jason Pace of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, which is assisting. A team from the NTSB traveled to the scene Friday.
The NTSB, on Twitter, sought the public’s help for photos or video of the sinking.
Severe storm hit Branson area
Jim Pattison Jr., president of the company that owns the duck boat tours, Ripley Entertainment Inc., said the ferocious squall “came out of nowhere.”
According to weather data, the storm traveled hundreds of miles at 55 mph before it hit the lake.
The area around Branson was placed under a severe thunderstorm warning shortly after 6:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. ET), about half an hour before the boat sank.
Radar shows the first wind gusts arriving at the lake ahead of the storm, at 6:59 p.m.
There were reports of damage throughout Stone County, including trees down and structural damage, CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said. The highest wind gust reported in the area was 63 mph.
The storm was part of the same upper-level weather system that spawned destructive tornadoes Thursday in Iowa, Missouri’s northern neighbor.
Authorities received the first 911 call about the sinking at 7:09 p.m., the sheriff said.
In July, the company operates tours that depart every 30 minutes from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. A tour lasts about 70 minutes, with about half on land and half on water, the company’s website says.
A mechanical problem on another boat possibly led to a delay in the ill-fated craft beginning its tour.