Many questions remain in the wake of the Branson duck boat tragedy that took the lives of 17 people. One of them: Were there life jackets on the boat? Were people required to wear them?
According to CBS News, there were life jackets on the duck boat, but Missouri law does not require people to wear them. Whether any of the victims were wearing life jackets has not yet been released. However, one survivor has said her family was advised they wouldn’t need them.
“The captain did say something about life jackets,” said Tia Coleman, one of two survivors of a family of 11 on the boat. She lost her husband, all three children, and multiple other relatives in the tragedy. “He said, above you are your life jackets. There are three sizes. I’m going to show you where they are, but you won’t need them, so no need to worry. So we didn’t grab them.”
Jim Pattison, president of Ripley Entertainment, which owns the duck boat, confirmed to CBS that the boats had life jackets on board, but that Missouri law doesn’t make people wear them.
“Usually the lake is very placid and it’s not a long tour, they go in and kind of around an island and back. We had other boats in the water earlier and it had been a great, sort of calm experience,” Pattison said to CBS. He said the storm seemed to come out of nowhere; citizen video from the nearby Branson Belle showed a severe storm lashing into two duck boats before one of them slowly started to sink.
Here’s what you need to know:
A Survivor Who Lost Nine Members of Her Family Says They Were Told They Wouldn’t Need Life Jackets
WXIN spoke to Tia Coleman, who survived the tragedy along with her nephew.
“My heart is very heavy. Out of 11 of us, only two of us surviving – that’s me and my nephew,” said Tia. “I lost all of my children. I lost my husband. I lost my mother-in-law and my father-in-law. I lost my uncle. I lost my sister-in-law … and I lost my nephew.”
Tia Coleman also told the television station, “The only thing that I would like to be done but can’t, is to bring my family back,” and she alleged that the duck’s captain told the passengers, “don’t worry about grabbing the life jackets – you won’t need them,” so her family members didn’t take them.
The Governor Appeared at a Press Conference & Urged Reporters to Give the Investigation Time
Although passengers aren’t required by law to wear life jackets on duck boats in Missouri, the boat was required to have them by law.
Lt. Commander Tasha Sadowicz of the Coast Guard told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of that requirement and said, “They would have had them on board.” But the law doesn’t require people to put them on.
The newspaper reported that “marketing photos and videos, posted for years by the company advertising the rides, show people not wearing life jackets.” The law requires that a life jacket be on board for ever passenger in a readily “accessible” place; whether the duck matched those requirements is not yet clear.
The governor and other officials held a July 20, 2018 mid-morning press conference on the Branson duck accident tragedy. You can watch live stream video at this link and below:
Here’s another livestream:
Reporters asked whether life jackets were worn by people on the boat, but the governor said it was too early to answer most questions and the investigation remained underway.
Seventenn People Drowned, Some of Them Children, in the Tragedy
Seventeen people are now listed as dead after the popular tourist amphibious duck boat capsized with more than 30 people, including children, on board in a lake near Branson, Missouri. Divers worked into the darkness, looking for missing people in the ink-black water. They suspended the search briefly for the night and then resumed it in the morning. Four people were listed as still being missing on July 20, 2018, but now all of the passengers have been accounted for.
Of those in the hospital, at least three are under age 18. The dead range in age from 1 to 70, the Stone County Sheriff, Doug Rader, revealed.
Rader said in a news conference that the victims drowned. Seven other people were taken to the hospital; two of the wounded are in critical condition, according to a local hospital. The boat carried 29 tourists and 2 crew members.
“I believe it was caused by the weather,” the sheriff added of the tragedy. “It capsized and sank…The duck is still in the water… it sank.”
The owner, Jim Patterson, told CNN the waters were calm when the duck went out, and the storm hit as it came back. “We’re absolutely devastated,” he said.
The NTSB is investigating.
Disturbing Videos Emerged of the Duck Boat Starting to Sink as Rough Waters Lashed It
Two videos emerged on Facebook that were taken by a person in another boat. You can watch the first video above. They show the boat being lashed by the strong waters as it tried to return to shore. Be forewarned that they are disturbing as one of the videos shows the duck boat beginning to sink as it battles rough waters. “We are at Branson and on the showboat! A storm came in as we got on and there was 2 ducks that you ride out there and 1 went under. Not sure if everyone on it is ok,” wrote the woman who posted them on Facebook.
Here’s the second video:
Here’s a shorter version on YouTube:
A video also emerged from another duck boat in the tumultuous waters:
A sheriff’s deputy on the boat as security was immediately in the water rescuing people, the sheriff said. “It’s going to be a challenging night,” he added.
Authorities are classifying the tragedy as a “mass casualty incident.”
The boat is reportedly underwater and can’t be seen from the surface. It carried 31 people, authorities said, and appears to have flipped over as a line of thunderstorms hit the area.
People on the nearby Branson Belle helped with the rescue, although the Branson Belle is not the boat that sank.
One local news report defined the boat as a “Ride the Ducks” boat, which is a popular tourist attraction in Branson. Southern Stone Fire, which is the lead agency responding to the scene, wrote earlier on, “Crews from multiple agencies are on scene of an MCI Mass Casualty Incident ‘tourist type boat involved’ this is on Table Rock Lake, Stone County, Branson Missouri. Taney County assisting. Several patients transported to area hospital. Divers on scene. Staging at Branson Belle. However the Branson Belle is not involved. More info to follow.”