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(SKY NEWS) – A woman who lost nine members of her family, including her children and husband, when a “duck boat” sank claims the captain told people not to put on life jackets.
The state governor’s office earlier confirmed that nine passengers from one family were among the 17 who died when the boat went down at Missouri’s Table Rock Lake on Thursday.
Winds of up to 65mph had whipped up the water and the boat carrying 31 people became swamped by waves before it capsized.
The ages of the those killed range from one to 70.
Tia Coleman told local TV station Fox 59: “I lost all my children, I lost my husband, I lost my mother in law, I lost my father in law, I lost my uncle, I lost my sister in law – she was my sister – and I lost my nephew. I’m okay, but this is really hard.”
She added: “The captain told us ‘don’t worry about grabbing the life jackets, you won’t need them’, so nobody grabbed them because we listened to the captain and he told us to stay seated.
“However in doing that, when it was time to grab them it was too late. I believe that a lot of people could have been spared.”
Relatives told US media that the family, from Indianapolis, were on their annual holiday.
The captain of the boat survived, but the driver – named by the local mayor as Bob Williams – died in the tragedy.
Authorities have not yet officially confirmed the names of the victims, and the captain has also not spoken publicly.
Missouri governor Mike Parson hailed as “heroes” the onlookers who risked their lives to save people in the water.
An off-duty police officer was among several people who jumped into the lake to help with the rescue effort, officials have said.
Mr Parson told Fox News: “There’s a lot of heroes involved… people who took it upon themselves to pull people out of the water and saved lives.
“That’s the good side of what occurred in a tragic situation.”
Trent Behr, who was having dinner on a nearby boat with his girlfriend, said he helped pull a woman from the water but he was unsure if she survived.
“She was just unconscious,” he told the Kansas City Star.
Stone County sheriff Doug Rader said the sunken boat was now lying in 80ft (24m) of water.
It has been found by police divers but authorities say it could take several days to pull it out of the water.
Sheriff Rader said the accident happened as the boat struggled against the wind to reach the shore.
“They were coming back toward land. There was actually two ducks – the first one made it out, the second one didn’t.”
The boss of the company that owns the duck boats, Jim Pattison Jr, said there had been a “microburst” of high wind just before the boat capsized.
He said the business monitored the weather and that the water was calm when the boat went into the lake.
Meteorologists said a severe thunder warning had been issued.
Mrs Coleman said the boat’s crew had been told to do the lake part of the duck boat journey first “before the storm hits” – and then go on to the land section of the excursion.
She told Fox 59: “The water didn’t look ominous at the very first, it looked like normal water, and then it started looking really choppy.”
A man who saw the incident unfold from a nearby boat said the storm took hold suddenly.
Brayden Malaske, from Oklahoma, said no one was worried when they first got on the boats, but it “suddenly got very dark”.
Two people in hospital in a critical condition are expected to survive, according to a spokeswoman for Cox Medical Center.
Flowers have been placed on several cars in the car park of the duck boat firm, with the vehicles thought to belong to some of the victims.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the US Coast Guard will investigate the accident.
The duck boats – which can drive on land and also go in the water – are a common site in tourist destinations but there have been a number of deaths involving the vehicles over the years.
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