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NEAR BRANSON, Mo. • Two St. Louis County residents were among 17 people killed when a tourist boat capsized on Table Rock Lake, authorities and friends confirmed on Friday.

William Asher and Rose Hamann were a longtime couple who shared a home in South County, friends said.

"They were two of the nicest people you will ever meet in your entire life," Patti Zimmer Lewis said of her friends who lost their lives when the duck boat sank during a powerful storm Thursday evening.

Among the other victims were nine members of one family, authorities said. Two other members of that family, including a 13-year-old, survived. The 17 people who died were from four different states, authorities said; 31 people had been on the boat when it sank.

The accident is the deadliest on Table Rock Lake and on any body of water in the state's modern history, according to Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. John Hotz.

The Ride the Ducks boat is an amphibious passenger vehicle, also known as a duck boat. Although the vehicles originated in a World War II design, the age of the sunken boat wasn't clear late Friday.

Seven of the 14 survivors were injured, one seriously, Sgt. Jason Pace of the Highway Patrol said. The boat captain survived. But the driver, identified by authorities as Bob Williams, 73, of the Branson area, did not.

Authorities late Friday identified the other victims as:

•  William Bright, 65, of Missouri.

•  Janice Bright, 63, of Missouri.

•  Angela Coleman, 45, of Indiana.

•  Arya Coleman, 1, of Indiana.

•  Belinda Coleman, 69, of Indiana.

•  Ervin Coleman, 76, of Indiana.

•  Evan Coleman, 7, of Indiana.

•  Glenn Coleman, 40, of Indiana.

•  Horace Coleman, 70, of Indiana.

•  Maxwell Coleman, 2, of Indiana.

•  Reece Coleman, 9, of Indiana.

•  Leslie Dennison, 64, of Illinois.

•  Lance Smith, 15, of Arkansas.

•  Steve Smith, 53, of Arkansas.

Amid storm warnings 17 die - 9 from one family - when boat capsizes on Table Rock Lake

Members of New Beginnings Fellowship in Hollister, Mo., gather in the Ride the Ducks parking lot in Branson to pray over a 15-passenger van with Indiana license plates on Friday, July 20, 2018, that is believed to have carried 9 of 11 members of an Indiana family that died when a duck boat capsized in a storm on Table Rock Lake Thursday evening. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

Authorities weren't saying if the boat's windows were closed at the time, possibly trapping people inside, as videos of the boat suggest. They also wouldn't say if anyone on board was wearing a life jacket. The Coast Guard said passengers must have access to life jackets — but there is no requirement they wear them.

A survivor from the family who lost nine relatives said the captain told passengers before the tour began not to bother grabbing life jackets, The Associated Press reported.

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 lost all her children, but she did not say how many.

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

A witness, Brayden Malaske, said he watched helplessly as the boat floundered in heavy waves Thursday evening. He shot a video just before it capsized. 

Malaske, from Harrah, Okla., was on vacation with his family. They were riding on the Branson Belle tourist boat. He said when he boarded, it was sunny. But the storm rolled in quickly, and he noticed two duck boats were struggling in the whitecaps.

“Surely, those won't sink,” he thought to himself.

But then one of the boats sunk lower in the water. He turned away in horror. When he looked back, he saw people in the water but no boat.

Malaske said he saw one survivor clinging to the paddlewheel of the Belle.

"She was holding on for dear life. We were trying to point everyone toward her," Malaske said.

A 10-year-old boy was pulled from the water, Mike Pedersen of West Bend, Wis. told the Post-Dispatch. 

“I took him up the hill to safety. My wife stayed with him until all was cleared. He was really shaken," Pedersen said.

Pedersen and his wife, Kimberly, had returned from a dinner cruise around the time of the incident and were on the shore. They were asked to leave the area soon after the boy was rescued because authorities said it was a crime scene.

Lewis and other friends of Asher and Hamann described them as a kind and fun-loving pair who loved music and dancing. Asher was retired but still ran a deejay sideline that he'd started many years ago.

Russ McKay said he met Asher when he contacted him about deejaying at a benefit for a local veteran. McKay said he told Asher he was on a tight budget for the event.

"He said 'The price is pretty good because if he is a veteran I'll do it for free,'" McKay recalled Friday night.

McKay said Hamaan was equally generous with her time and talents, eventually joining McKay on the board that oversees a local nonprofit that raises money for veterans causes.

"Rosie was the vice president, the treasurer and the cook," McKay said.

Near the scene of the tragedy, there were at least three vigils held Friday night for the victims.

At one, hundreds of mourners gathered in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks for an impromptu memorial service. Holding candles, they stood around the flower-draped cars of the victims, which were still in the lot, and sang “Amazing Grace.”

Devin McGilberry of New Jersey was among those who rode on the duck earlier in the day when the weather was clear. He said he and his wife feel like they dodged a bullet.

"The tour was good. Our captain was nice," said McGilberry. "It's definitely a tragic incident."

Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader told reporters at a press conference Friday that he didn't know if the passengers had been wearing life jackets. Officials said they weren't legally required to wear them.

Dive team rescue operations worked overnight in water as deep as 80 feet, Pace said. 

Officials with the Southern Stone County Fire Protection District said crews from several agencies were on scene Thursday night. 

Waves pummeling boat

Seven people were taken from the scene by ambulance Thursday night. The dead were believed to have drowned, Rader said.

The boat is submerged and cannot be seen from the surface. Laurie Driver, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Little Rock district, confirmed the lake at the accident site is 50 to 80 feet deep. It's deep but not the deepest point, she said. Just north of the accident site, closer to the dam near the White River channel, it is 250 feet deep, Driver said. 

At an afternoon briefing, the sheriff said the National Transportation Safety Board probably would not try to raise the boat until Monday.

The Ride the Ducks tourist boats will be closed while the investigation into the deadly boat capsizing on Table rock Lake is under investigation, the company said Friday.

The disaster had apparently been caused by the storm, Rader said. The National Weather Service said wind speeds up to 63 mph were reported at the Branson Airport at about 7:30 p.m.

Another witness aboard the Branson Belle showboat captured video of two of the duck boats on the lake, apparently just before one of them capsized. The video shows the boats rocking as large waves slam into them. The boats have wheels and can be driven into the water.

Rader said an off-duty deputy from his department had been at the scene when the boat went under. He credited the deputy with rescuing some of the boat’s passengers.

People who had relatives on the boat were urged to go to Branson City Hall to await reports. Inside a conference room at City Hall, several people were seen sitting and crying, waiting for updates on the remaining victims.

Branson Mayor Karen Best said two or three groups of families were given food and counseling Thursday night and Friday morning at City Hall. “We became kind of the command center for families,” she said.

People involved in the search effort also spent time with counselors, the mayor said. “They are grieving as well,” she said.

President Trump posted a message on Twitter Friday morning about the accident. "Such a tragedy, such a great loss," he tweeted, in part.

The Coast Guard is investigating the accident, in conjunction with the National Transportation Safety Board, the Highway Patrol and the sheriff's department.

The Coast Guard inspects the duck boats annually, looking at everything from the boat's mechanics to watching the captains and drivers conduct "man-overboard" drills. Lt. Commander Tasha Sadowicz of the Coast Guard told the Post-Dispatch that the boats are required to have life jackets. "They would have had them on board," she said, although there is no requirement that they be worn.

"They are not required to wear them unless the captain or driver ask their passengers to put them on," Sadowicz said. "If you think about it, on a cruise ship, you're not required to wear a life jacket. You have a captain to make that call."

Sadowicz said she doesn't know yet if the captain Thursday told the passengers to wear their life jackets at any point. "I'm sure that's one of the main points the investigation will look at," Sadowicz said.

State Rep. Don Phillips, R-Kimberling City, represents a district that includes the lake. He told the Post-Dispatch that it's too early to discuss changing the life preserver law.

"I don't know what the company's policy is," he said. "I don't know if the children were wearing them. If there was such a law, it probably would be better for children." 

After repeated questions from reporters to the sheriff about life jackets, Gov. Mike Parson said it was too early to talk about rules on life jacket requirements. "It's going to take some time to get answers to these questions," Parson said. "There's a lot of healing that needs to take place right now."

There were two crew members on board. One was the captain, one was the driver. The captain survived, Sadowicz said.

Marketing photos and videos, posted for years by the company advertising the rides, show people not wearing life jackets. Pace of the Highway Patrol said state law requires that the vessels have one jacket for everyone on board and that the jackets be readily "accessible," not stowed under a seat.

This video from Ride the Ducks social media page about two years ago, for instance, shows a packed boat of tourists on a leisurely ride on calm water. Not a single person featured in the video is wearing a life jacket.

Ride the Ducks

Ride the Ducks was acquired by Ripley Entertainment in December 2017. The popular Branson attraction has been around 40 years. A press release by Ripley after it bought the company called Ride the Ducks a "70-minute guided amphibious tour that takes guests through the scenic Ozarks on both land and water," a seasonal business that runs from March to November. The company operates 22 duck vehicles.

Ripley Entertainment has been a division of The Jim Pattison Group, since 1985. Vancouver-based The Jim Pattison Group, owned by billionaire Jim Pattison, had $10.1 billion in sales in 2017, making it the second largest private company in Canada, according to its website.

The Ride the Ducks posted a statement on its website Friday. It reads:

"We are deeply saddened by the tragic accident that occurred at Ride The Ducks Branson. This incident has deeply affected all of us. Words cannot convey how profoundly our hearts are breaking.We will continue to do all we can to assist the families who were involved and the authorities as they continue with the search and rescue."

Storms in Branson

The National Weather Service office in Springfield had issued a severe thunderstorm warning at 6:32 p.m. Thursday for Taney, Stone and Barry counties. Table Rock Lake was specifically mentioned in the warning, said Kelsey Angle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

By that time, southwest Missouri had already been under a severe thunderstorm watch for more than seven hours, which meant that people were warned that conditions were coming together for a potential severe thunderstorm.

The actual warning, Angle said, means: "Take action because life and property area in danger."

After the warning was issued, wind gusts at Branson West were recorded at 52 mph at 6:55 p.m., Angle said.

The first call of a capsized boat on Table Rock Lake came to police dispatchers at 7:09 p.m. Thursday.

By 7:25 p.m., winds of 63 mph were measured at Branson Airport. The warning was in effect until 7:30 p.m. Additional warnings followed after that.

A group of five St. Louis area teens and one parent who were in the area for a softball tournament had to be rescued from jet skis elsewhere in the lake as the storm came in.

"It just hit out of nowhere then it was like bullets hitting our back and huge waves," said Sabrina Gregory, 16, of Fenton, who saw her teammates fall into the water and struggle to come ashore. None of them were injured. "A lot of us couldn't sleep last night thinking how close we got."

Rachel Rice, Lisa Brown, Erin Heffernan, Janelle O'Dea, Samantha Liss and Lisa Eisenhauer of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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Kurt Erickson is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Kim Bell is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.