Sources: People killed in duck boat tragedy weren’t wearing life jackets when found

Crews from multiple Missouri agencies are on the scene of a mass casualty incident with a "tourist-type boat involved," the Stone County Fire Department said in a statement. Full Credit: Southern Stone County Fire Protection District

BRANSON, Mo. — The 17 people who died in the duck boat tragedy last week in southwestern Missouri were not wearing life jackets when found, a source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN Sunday.

The Ride the Ducks Branson amphibious vessel had 31 people on board when it set sail Thursday on Table Rock Lake near the Missouri tourist mecca of Branson as a severe thunderstorm whipped up intense winds and waves. A treacherous squall sank the boat.

There were life jackets on the boat, according to Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader. Rader said over the weekend he didn’t know if people were wearing them.

Tia Coleman, one of the 14 survivors, said passengers were told there was a storm coming before the trip. The captain mentioned the life jackets before they went on the lake but said, “you won’t need them so we didn’t grab them,” Coleman said Saturday.

“They told us, ‘They’re up here, this is where they are.’ They showed us where they were but said but don’t worry about it you won’t need it. We said, ‘OK.’ So, when the captain took over, I thought that at some point he would say, ‘Grab the jackets now.’ But we were told to stay seated,” she told CNN affiliate KOLR. “Nobody grabbed it. … When that boat is found, all those life jackets are going to be on there because nobody pulled one off.”

Coleman added: “You weren’t supposed to grab them unless you were in distress, which we were, but he told us … we don’t need them.”

Coleman, who lost nine family members, said she thinks she could have saved her children if she had been able to get them life jackets.

“I felt like, 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,” she told reporters at Cox Medical Center Branson, where she was hospitalized.

The boat sank 40 feet and then rolled to an area 80 feet deep, according to Rader.

The dead victims ranged in age from 1 to 76 years, authorities said.

State investigators are looking into whether any criminal acts were committed, according to Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley. The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the cause of the sinking.