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Survivor of duck boat accident says captain told family ‘don’t worry about grabbing the life jackets’

BRANSON, Missouri – One of the survivors of the duck boat accident that killed 17 people in Branson, Missouri says the captain of the vessel told her family not to worry about grabbing life jackets.

“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,” said Tia Coleman during a phone interview with FOX59. “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.”

This photo shows some of the Indiana family members killed in the duck boat crash in Branson, Missouri. The identities of the specific victims have not been released. (Photo courtesy of family)

Nine of Tia’s family members died when the boat capsized Thursday night. All of them were from Indiana. Tia and her nephew were the only family members to survive.

“I lost all of my children. I lost my husband. I lost my mother-in-law and my father-in-law. I lost my uncle. I lost my sister-in-law… she was my sister. And I lost my nephew,” said Tia. “I’m okay, but this is really hard.”

Passengers on a nearby boat described the scene as chaotic and said the winds picked up suddenly, sending debris flying everywhere.

Federal officials have been touting the dangers of amphibious tour boats like the one the Coleman family was on for a while now. According to USA Today, they have spotty and sometimes contradictory safety regulations because they are neither entirely boat or bus.

Some of the main issues with duck boats are the use of life jackets and their canopies. While they protect passengers from the elements above, if the boats sink, passengers in life jackets can float to the top and be trapped.

USA Today says NTSB recommends not wearing life jackets on these types of boats for that reason. The Coast Guard requires life jackets on boats, but leaves it to the vessel's master to tell passengers when to wear the jackets during hazardous situations.

The NTSB, Coast Guard and local law enforcement agencies are investigating the circumstances surrounding this fatal incident.