A family that met the Coleman relatives which lost nine members in last Thursday’s Duck Boat mishap has been moved by the experience.

Missouri State Highway Patrol crews assist the U.S. Coast Guard during the Duck boat recovery efforts on July 23, 2018 (photo courtesy of the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s Twitter page)

Steve and Dena Milz of southeast Missouri’s Chaffee along with their 17-year-old daughter, Carlie, spent 15 minutes with the Coleman’s and took a Duck Boat ride three hours before the Coleman family’s ill-fated journey.

Dena Milz told KFVS-TV that she now thinks the attraction should be permanently retired. 

“It’s not worth it,” said Milz.  “And this wasn’t an isolated incident. It’s happened in other states to other people.  You ought to put one of those vehicles in a museum someplace and pay to let people come in and look at them is probably a lot safer.”

Thirteen out of 21 passengers died when a Duck Boat sank in Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1999.  Three other disasters involving similar craft in Ontario, Canada, Philadelphia, and Seattle resulted in 11 deaths.  Last Thursday’s Duck Boat tragedy on Table Rock Lake near Branson in southwest Missouri took 17 lives.

The Milzs’ were in Branson for a softball tournament for daughter Carlie’s team which was coached by father Steve.  After the tragedy, Carlie says she and her teammates had trouble focusing on the games.

“It was the following morning…and I hit the ball and I got to third base,” Carlie said. “My third base coach was like ‘I know it’s on your mind. I understand and it’s okay and things happen and it’s all in God’s hands,’ and I started tearing up on third base right there.”

Carlie told KFVS-TV how she enjoyed the moments she spent with Tia Coleman and her family. 

“Tia and her husband have a little girl, she was 16 months old and she was running around and I was just playing with her and trying to make her smile,” said Carlie.  “They were good people.  They were good people.”

The one-year-old was one of the nine Coleman family members who died.  Dena Milz plans to call Tia Coleman in a few weeks and stay in touch with her. KFVS reports the family is also planning to get duck tattoos with the date the boat sank so that they will always hold onto the memories of their trip.

The mass casualty incident in southwest Missouri has triggered a spotlight to be shined on the shortcomings of the Duck Boats themselves.  Both of Missouri’s U.S. Senators, Republican Roy Blunt, and Democrat Claire McCaskill, made back to back statements on the chamber floor Tuesday.

McCaskill said she’s planning to introduce legislation to address design flaws in the vehicles that have been identified by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).  The agency released a report in 2002 concerning the 1999 mass casualty incident in Arkansas.

The report blamed the mishap on the Duck Boat’s lack of adequate buoyancy that would have allowed it to remain afloat in a flooded condition, as well as a shortage of adequate oversight by the Coast Guard, and a canopy roof that tends to entrap passengers within the sinking vehicle.

Among other things, McCaskill said the canopies should be removed from the vessels so that passengers could escape what amounts to a “sinking coffin”.

Medical Responders Impacted

The gruesome nature of last Thursday’s tragedy has had an impact on survivors of the incident and those tending to them in the medical community as well.  Cox Medical Center in Branson treated 6 of the 31 victims from the mishap.

Matt Farmer, the facility’s Director of the Hospital’s Emergency Department, told KOLR-TV that mental, as well as physical care, was needed for the victims, especially those who had loved ones that didn’t survive. 

“A trauma has just happened, and we need to be loving on them and showing them compassion as much as possible even when we don’t know what’s going on,” said Farmer.

He said hospital staff will be meeting with counselors this week after being emotionally impacted by the disaster.

“Some people who were in direct care are very, very affected by the patients’ stories, Farmer said.  “There’s no medical thing that we can do sometimes to help people get through this kind of tragedy so, at some points, we were unprepared, but a lot of the staff, they’re reaching out.”

Missourinet media partner KOLR-TV and KFVS-TV contributed content to this story