Woman Who Lost Nine Relatives in Boating Accident Struggles With Why She Survived

Tia Coleman lived in home ‘filled with sound of little feet and laughter;’ now her husband and three children are gone

Tia Coleman said she can’t understand how she and a teenage nephew survived the sinking of an amphibious tour boat in a sudden violent storm on Thursday while nine other members of her family died.

“I don’t have the capacity to understand it,” she said in a televised press conference Saturday as she continued to recover in a hospital in Branson, Mo., near the site of the accident on Table Rock Lake in the Ozark Mountains. “God must have a reason.”

Of all the difficulties she faced in the past few days, going home to an empty house may be the worst.

“Ever since I’ve had a home it’s been filled with the sound of little feet and laughter,” she said.

Ms. Coleman, who lost her husband and three children—ages 9 to 1—along with other members of her husband’s family, said she was being treated for the effects of swallowing large amounts of water.

Thursday’s accident, which took the lives of 17 people altogether, began with a threat of a storm, she said. The tour operator told the crew to complete the water part of the land and water tour first to get off the water ahead of the storm.The chief executive of Ripley Entertainment, the owner of the Ride the Ducks Branson boat, has said in media interviews that going into the water was a mistake under the circumstances, while also noting the water was calm when the boat entered the water.

The company didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Ms. Coleman also said the lake was tranquil at the start of the cruise, but as the boat tried to return to land, large waves began washing over the bow.

“It was hot,” she said. “ So at first we were like this is nice.”

Then a large wave came over the bow and a second wave plunged Ms. Coleman, who was sitting in the front of the boat with her children, under water.

She said she hit her head on what she thinks is the top of the boat and thought she would die, but somehow skidded against the surface and became free. The water was “icy cold,” she said, so she knew she was deep in the lake.

So she began kicking, but was torn because she didn’t know where her children were. “If they don’t make it, Lord,” she thought, “then take me too, because there’s no reason for me to be here.”

She said she briefly began to drift but then realized the water was getting warm, so she  struggled to the surface. Large waves hit her face, but she could see that people were jumping into the water from a nearby riverboat, the Branson Belle.

“They were jumping in the water to save us,” she said. She yelled for help, but no one heard. Eventually she made it to the side of the boat, where she was pulled to safety.

“I believe I survived by God and good Samaritans,” she said.

Ms. Coleman said the captain had pointed to life vests above the seats before the boat entered the water, but said they wouldn’t be needed, so no one took one. She believes that if she had put them on her children they would have floated to the surface and survived.

She spoke fondly of her loved ones who died, remembering a big meal they had at a restaurant the night before and all the fun they’d had swimming at the hotel pool.

She said her husband, Glenn, 40, was a loving man and a good father; her son Reese was 9 and on the autism spectrum but made every day worth living; her son Evan, 7, was a good brother who was smart and quick-witted; her 1-year-old daughter Arya, was “a little fireball.”

She said she was also very close to her sister-in-law, Angela Coleman, 45; her father-in-law, Horace Coleman, 70, her mother-in-law, Belinda Coleman, 69, and her husband’s uncle, Ervin Coleman, 76 and her 2-year-old nephew,  Maxwell Coleman.

“I want to remember my family as the beautiful people they are,” she said.

By Joe Barrett

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