NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/CBS News/AP) – Authorities say 17 people are dead after a tour boat carrying 31 people capsized and sank on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri, during a powerful storm Thursday.
The National Weather Service reported wind gusts of more than 60 mph.
Authorities say it could take several days to raise the boat that sank in southern Missouri.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Jason Pace said the vessel came to rest in 80 feet of water in the Lake of the Ozarks. Authorities initially said it would be raised Friday but Pace says it will take several days to get the equipment in place. He says investigators “want to preserve evidence as best is possible.”
Pace says the area has been secured and the investigation turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard.
He also says divers indicated the water visibility was better than normal, expediting the recovery of the victims’ bodies. They ranged in age from one to 70 years old. Nine of them were from the same family.
Tia Coleman was on board the boat when it quickly started taking on water during the severe thunderstorm.
“I couldn’t see anybody, I couldn’t hear anything, I couldn’t hear screams. It felt like I was out there on my own. I was yelling, I screaming and finally I said, ‘Lord, just let me die, let me die,'” she said in an interview Friday night. “When I saw they were throwing out life jackets to people, I said, ‘Jesus, please keep me, just keep me so I can get to my children. Keep me, Lord.'”
Tourist Trent Behr was on a nearby boat at the time. He says people jumped into the water to help save one woman.
“We got one of the life carriers, one of those things we got her in there and pulled her up, and I was yelling for people to get CPR,” he said.
“Just a bunch of visitors just jumped to it, came down there. There were a couple of really brave guys,” said Mike Pedersen, also on board another boat.
“The waves were probably five feet high, rolling just one right after the other, life jackets everywhere,” Roger Carpenter, manager of State Park Marina, said. “It was just a chaotic mess.”
Jim Pattison Jr., the president of Ripley Entertainment, which owns the duck boat tour company involved in the incident, told “CBS This Morning” on Friday the boat “shouldn’t have been in the water.”
“I don’t have all the details, but to answer your question, no, it shouldn’t have been in the water if, if what happened, happened,” he said when asked why the tour continued in such rough conditions.
“This business has been operating for 47 years and we’ve never had an incident like this or anything close to it. To the best of our knowledge – and we don’t have a lot of information now – but it was a fast-moving storm that came out of basically nowhere is sort of the verbal analysis I’ve got,” Pattison said.
According to Pattison, the boats do have life jackets on board but passengers are not required to wear them by law.
“Usually the lake is very placid and it’s not a long tour, they go in and kind of around an island and back. We had other boats in the water earlier and it had been a great, sort of calm experience,” Pattison said.
He added that the captain of that particular boat had 16 years of experience with the company, Ride the Ducks.
“You know, they have a very good record. So, again, this seems to be sort of almost a micro storm effect of something that no one was expecting to happen the way that it did,” Pattison said.
President Donald Trump tweeted about the accident Friday morning.
“My deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those involved in the terrible boat accident which just took place in Missouri,” said Trump. “Such a tragedy, such a great loss. May God be with you all!”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with these family members,” said Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Friday. “We as a state will do everything within my powers to make sure they all have the resources here they need.”
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)