BRANSON, Mo. — Authorities said nine of 17 people who died in a duck boat accident in Missouri all came from the same family.
To make things worse, witnesses say the family was put on the ill-fated boat because of a ticket mix-up.
Tracy Beck, of Kansas City, says she and her family were waiting in line for another boat when the Coleman family stopped talking to have a group picture taken by the tour company.
Beck said the ticket taker realized the family should have boarded at a different location in Branson.
The family had to get new tickets and was put on the boat that eventually sank. Beck said she recognized the family when pictures began circulating Friday.
A total of 29 passengers and two crew members were aboard the duck boat for a pleasure cruise. Seven of the 14 survivors were hurt when the vessel went down. At least two children and two adults were still hospitalized Friday afternoon. The captain survived, authorities said.
Gary and Carolyn Coleman, of Riverdale, said their hearts broke when they found out their loved ones, totaling nine, were killed in the duck boat accident.
They told Channel 2's Carl Willis that they were on an annual family trip and all lived in Indianapolis.
Some of the victims have been identified as Horace "Butch" Coleman, Ray Coleman, Maxwell Coleman, Glen Coleman, Angela Coleman, Donovan Coleman (who survived), Reese Coleman, Belinda Tony Coleman, and Tia Coleman (who survived).
"I've just been looking at that picture all day," Gary Coleman told Willis. "I'm just lost. I don't know. I can't place it. I can't imagine it. We've had a death in the family. One or two, not a whole family at one time."
Relatives are headed to Missouri to salvage what they can and come to the side of the two survivors.
Including Tia Coleman, who spoke about the horrific incident from her hospital bed Friday.
"I said, Lord, just let me die. I can't keep drowning. I can't keep drowning. 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. I jumped up and saw the big boat. And when I saw them they were throwing out life jackets. And I just said ‘Jesus keep me, so I can get to my children. Keep me Lord.’"
Gary and Carolyn said they are thankful for the witnesses on another boat who jumped in to help however they could.
"We're just going to trust and keep faith in God that he can soothe our spirits because this isn't easy," Carolyn Coleman said.
Now, questions remain about what could have and should have been done to prevent this from happening.
"My biggest question is: Why did that boat go out? They had thunderstorm warnings all day coming through Kansas and Missouri," Gary Coleman said. "To be out on the water like that ... the boat should have never left."
The weather service station in Springfield, about 40 miles north of Branson, issued a severe thunderstorm watch for its immediate area Thursday, saying conditions were ripe for winds of 70 mph. It followed up at 6:32 p.m. with a severe thunderstorm warning for three counties that included Branson and the lake. The warning mentioned both locations. The boat went down about 40 minutes later, shortly after 7 p.m.
Suzanne Smagala with Ripley Entertainment, which owns Ride the Ducks in Branson, said the company was assisting authorities. She said this was the company's only accident in more than 40 years of operation.
The sheriff said Thursday that two duck boats were on the water at the time of the storm. Both were headed back to land. One returned safely. The other did not.
Divers quickly located the sunken vessel, which came to rest on its wheels on the lake bed. Authorities planned to recover it at some point in the next few days.
The boat sank in 40 feet of water and then rolled on its wheels into a deeper area with 80 feet of water.
The Ride the Ducks tour begins in downtown Branson, where the vehicles take passengers on a tour while the captain cracks jokes and points out landmarks. Eventually, the boats pull up to the lake and slowly enter the water with a small splash.
After a few minutes on the water, the vehicles return to land and to their home base, which features a store selling candy and souvenirs.
Branson, about 200 miles southeast of Kansas City, is a country-themed tourist mecca built on a reputation for patriotic and religious-themed shows in numerous theaters.
Table Rock Lake, east of Branson, was created in the late 1950s when the Corps of Army Engineers built a dam across the White River to provide hydroelectric power to the Ozarks.
Stone Mountain Park sent Channel 2 Action News a statement Friday evening, saying they had suspended their Duck Boat ride:
"All of us at Stone Mountain Park are heartbroken about the accident that happened last evening on Ride the Ducks in Branson, Missouri. Our prayers are with the victims, their families and the team at Ripley Entertainment.
"As always, safety is our top priority here at Stone Mountain Park. Therefore, we have suspended our Ride the Ducks operation until more information about the Branson tragedy becomes available."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Cox Media Group