Family killed in duck boat tragedy ‘only went on trip after ticket mix-up’

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Nine of the 17 people killed when a tourist boat sank on a Missouri lake were members of the same Indiana family – and they would most likely not have been on the ill-fated trip were it not for a ticket mix-up.

Tracy Beck, of Kansas City, said she recalled the family members waiting in a queue at Table Rock Lake in Branson. After they stopped for a picture, she said, a ticket attendant realised they should have boarded at a different location, and reassigned them.

Others who died in the accident involving an amphibious “duck boat” operated by Ride the Ducks included a Missouri couple who had recently celebrated a birthday, a Rhode Island pastor who was operating the boat, and an Indiana father and son.

A woman writes a message during a candlelight vigil
A woman writes a message during a candlelight vigil (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

A relative of the family, Kim Thomas Sr, said they are taking the news hard.

The 51-year-old said: “The kids are doing better than we are. We have to live in this world; they have gone to the other side.”

Mr Thomas’ cousin, Tia Coleman, was one of two members of the family to survive the accident.

Flowers and a note rest on a car believed to belong to a victim of a the duck boat accident
Flowers and a note rest on a car believed to belong to a victim of a the duck boat accident (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Tia Coleman told Indianapolis television station WXIN that she and a nephew were the only survivors among 11 relatives aboard the boat. She said she had lost all her children, but she did not say how many.

Ms Coleman said the captain told passengers that they would not need life jackets. By the time of the accident, “it was too late”.

A duck boat
A duck boat sits idle in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks, an amphibious tour operator in Branson (AP)

Also killed were 64-year-old Leslie Dennison of Illinois, and 53-year-old Steve Smith and his son, 15-year-old Lance Smith, both from Arkansas.

Investigators are trying to determine what went sent the vessel known as a duck boat to its demise in what was the deadliest accident of its kind in nearly two decades.

An initial assessment blamed thunderstorms and winds that approached hurricane strength, but it was not clear why the amphibious vehicle even ventured out into the water.

Brandon Webb and Carlye Michel participate in a candlelight vigil in the car park of Ride the Ducks
Brandon Webb and Carlye Michel participate in a candlelight vigil in the car park of Ride the Ducks (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

“When we issue a warning, it means take action,” meteorologist Kelsey Angle said.

Suzanne Smagala with Ripley Entertainment, which owns Ride the Ducks in Branson, said the company was assisting authorities with their investigation. She said this was the company’s only accident in more than 40 years of operation.

Twenty-nine passengers and two crew members were aboard. Seven of the 14 survivors were hurt. The captain survived, authorities said.

Among the injured was 14-year-old Loren Smith of Osceola, Arkansas. Her father, retired maths teacher Steve Smith, and her brother died in the accident. Ms Smith suffered a concussion.

“It’s a hard thing,” Steve Smith’s father, Carroll Smith, said of losing his only child and his only grandson. “It’s a very difficult day.”

Prayers are held
People pray by a car thought to belong to a victim of the accident (AP)

Mr Williams’ family in Rhode Island, where he lived for decades before retiring to Branson, remembered him as a deeply religious man who founded a local church.

Ms Hamann and Mr Asher, a St Louis area couple killed in the accident, had been celebrating Ms Hamman’s birthday earlier in the week. Her final Facebook photo was a selfie with Mr Asher.

Friend Russ McKay said he talked to Ms Hamann the day before the accident. She said they had just gone on a paddle boat and were planning to go again. He does not know why they chose the duck boat instead.

A tribute to the victims
Tributes are left to the victims (AP)

Five college students were killed in 2015 in Seattle when a duck boat collided with a bus. Thirteen people died in 1999 when a boat sank near Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Safety advocates have sought improvements and complained that too many agencies regulate the boats with varying safety requirements.

The boats were originally designed for the military, specifically to transport troops and supplies in the Second World War. They were later modified for use as sightseeing vehicles.

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