A fun vacation made up of three generations of one family has turned into a nightmare. Of the 11 members of the Coleman family that traveled together from Indianapolis to Branson, Missouri., nine are now dead including four small children. The boat was carrying a total 31 people, including the driver and guide.
The victims include the grandmother, two uncles, aunt, cousins and their children who, say relatives, were each under the age of 10.
The tragedy unfolded Thursday evening as a storm suddenly blew up near Table Rock Lake around supper time. The storm caught many by surprise including individual boaters on the clear, cold waters, diners on the Showboat Branson Belle, and others in the area.
Rough waves, normally reserved for the Great Lakes and coastal regions, swelled from the hurricane force winds with rare, large white caps captured on the cell phones of the Showboat’s guests. Video shows two Duck Tour amphibious vehicle-boats rising and falling with the waves as one appears to become swamped. Another gust of wind at the wrong time capsized that boat as the other continued to struggle in the wind and waves.
The number of dead stands at 17 people, including the driver. The tour guide survived.
“They were very loved,” said an emotional relative Ingrid Coleman Douglas speaking of her family in a telephone interview.
“It’s a huge family on all sides. It’s unimaginable. I would never have thought I would have lost this number of people this way.”
Coleman Douglas said the victims included her uncles Horace “Butch” Coleman and Irving Raymond Coleman; Horace Coleman’s wife, Belinda Coleman; her cousins, Angela Coleman and Glenn Coleman; Angela’s 2-year-old son Maxwell; Glenn’s two sons Evan and Reece; and his 1-year-old daughter, Arya.
Just two family members survived including Glenn’s wife Tia, and Angela’s older son, whose name has not been released.
“They were on vacation,” Ingrid said in an interview. “This is something they liked to do as a family.”
Her statement echoed why Branson is so popular with families from across the Midwest and beyond. Families see it as a multi-generational vacation spot with something for everyone and a place where families return year-after-year.
Meteorologists now say the storm hit the lake with 80 mph winds that caused waves 5 feet high
It is believed the boat sank in 40 feet of water, rolled down the underwater embankment of the lake and landed on its wheels under the roiling 80-feet-deep lake waves.
Investigators now say that life jackets were on board the boat, but it’s unclear whether any were used, officials said. If any victims did have them on, it is possible they became trapped inside the boat as it quickly sank giving them little time to save themselves or their loved ones.
One shocking clue about life jacket use comes from Tia Coleman herslef. Speaking from Branson hospital, she told Indianapolis TV station Fox59 that the captain on the duck boat had laughed off their use and told tourists that they didn’t need to wear them.
“My husband would want me to say this. He would want the world to know that on this boat we were on, the captain had told us, ‘Don’t worry about grabbing the life jackets — you won’t need them.’ So nobody grabbed them as we listened to the captain as he told us to stay seated,” Coleman said.
“However 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.”
Coleman Douglas said she was notified that her family members had perished early Friday morning. She said she still was coming to terms with the tragedy but shared details about the lives of her loved ones.
Butch Coleman, she said, was retired from his job at UPS and coached youth league football.
“He would like for that to be out there,” Ingrid said.
Coleman Douglas said that other family members back in Indianpolis were hoping to make arrangements to bring family members home as soon as possible.
“We may need assistance getting them back here,” she said. “We have to bring nine bodies, four babies, home.”
Because of the unique nature of the tragedy and it having been so far from the victim’s homes, fundraisers have already been established.
There are already several community fundraisers and GoFundMe pages created to help victims of the duck boat tragedy.
Ingrid Coleman said her family was still in shock and taking it day-by-day and had had not decided on details or what assistance they ultimately need.
The family is pulling together as one member described the Coleman clan as “close-knit” and “loving.”
“All of our hearts just hurt,” said Kyrie Rose in a phone interview Friday night. Both Rose and Ingrid Coleman released a recent photo of the family, which includes all the victims except 1-year-old Arya.
Reports say Tia Coleman and Angela’s son — are doing well, and that one had been released from the hospital.
“They are doing what would be expected and still grappling with all the facts and parameters,” Rose said.
–Dwight Widaman and wire services