It was a beautiful Thursday afternoon on July 19 on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri. Calming waves splashed against the duck boat and a breeze swept across their skin, cooling them down on a hot day. Enjoying such a serene boat ride, no one expected the wind or waves to pick up so quickly…
One swell after another, the Ride the Ducks Branson duck boat began to rock and frighten the 31 passengers it had on board – and in mere seconds, the boat began to sink.
Fear gripped every man, woman, and child. Breath started growing scarce. Panic and commotion underwater made it hard to find friends and family.
Before long, 34-year-old Tia Coleman and her 13-year-old nephew, Donovan, were faced with the realization that nine members of the Coleman family were gone – forever. What was supposed to be the family’s annual summer trip – in the blink of an eye – turned into the most devastating life events no one can ever plan for.
“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 mother-in-law and my faither-in-law. I lost my uncle. I lost my sister-in-law… and I lost my nephew.”
The close-knit, loving Colemans who were described as “a family that welcomed everyone… [and] were about kids” lost 3 generations that day…
Horace Coleman, 70
Belinda Coleman, 69
Irvin Coleman, 76
Glenn Coleman, 40
Reece Coleman, 9
Evan Coleman, 7
Arya Coleman, 1
Angela Coleman, 45
Maxwell Coleman, 2
Perhaps the most infuriating and heartbreaking part of this loss is the fact that it was likely avoidable. Tia recalled what one of the duck boat operators told them upon boarding:
“He said, ‘Above you are your life jackets. There’s three sizes.’ He said, ‘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.”
According to federal law, if the crew doesn’t think life jackets are necessary, passengers do not need to where them. However, they must be available. And while they were available, it was too late to reach life jackets let alone put them on by the time the boat started sinking.
“If I was able to get a life jacket, I could have saved my babies… Because they could have at least floated up to the top and somebody could have grabbed them. And I wasn’t able to do that.”
“The only thing that I would like to be done but can’t, is to bring my family back.”
People will burden themselves wondering what if I did this or what if I did that… It’s especially hard for the surviving Coleman family members since they were originally going to go to Florida. But because of Tia Coleman’s mother-in-law’s health, they opted for somewhere closer.
In life, times like this occur for reasons we will never know. What we do know is that friends and family need to band together in love and support of one another. If individuals need to mourn and grieve, give them the space and time to do so. This is a great place to start.
What You Need to Know About Duck Boats
The amphibious duck boats have long been linked to deaths both on land and in water. According to the Kansas City Star, duck boats pose an incredible drowning risk due to their canopy tops. They have even been described as “coffins” and “death traps”.
“The problem with canopies is that if you are wearing your life preserver and there is a canopy and the boat capsizes, then the floatation device will take you up in the canopy, pinning you inside the vessel,” said Philadelphia Attorney, Robery Mongeluzzi. “If you don’t wear your life preserver, then you don’t have the flotation to get to the surface if the boat sinks.”
Clearly, it’s a high-risk catch-22. Of course, the safest thing to do when you’re on any water vehicle is to wear a life jacket. But to avoid all risk, you may just want to stay away from duck boats altogether.
Please keep the Colemans and other families affected by this devastating even in your thoughts and prayers. If you feel so inclined to contribute financially, you can visit the family’s GoFundMe page.
 9 members of one Indiana family among 17 killed in duck boat accident. (2018, July 20). Retrieved from https://wgno.com/2018/07/20/9-members-of-one-indiana-family-among-17-killed-in-duck-boat-accident/
 Pinho, F. E., & Ryckaert, V. (2018, July 31). Coleman family files second wrongful death lawsuit after Missouri duck boat tragedy. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/07/31/branson-duck-boat-tragedy-coleman-family-second-lawsuit/872590002/
 Eligon, J. (2018, July 22). Nine of Her Family Members on a Missouri Duck Boat Died. Somehow, She Survived. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/21/us/coleman-duck-boat-branson.html
 Thomas, J. L. (n.d.). Federal agency warned about danger of duck boat canopies before Table Rock tragedy. Retrieved from https://www.kansascity.com/news/state/missouri/article215219170.html
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