One of the passengers who perished while on a duck boat ride in Missouri had been recently baptized. Lance Smith, 15, was among the 17 people who drowned when the boat was hit by bad weather and sank on Table Rock Lake in the Ozarks.
Lance’s sister, Loren, managed to survive after swimming to safety, away from the stricken vessel. On Monday, she spoke of trying to save her brother, along with her 53-year-old father, who also died in the accident. “I saw someone struggling. I went up to push up their feet so they could get help. But the waves were too big, I couldn’t go back to save that person. It could have been my brother. It could have been my dad,” Smith told CBS This Morning.
Her father Steve Smith, was a deacon at Osceola Church of Christ at Semmes Ave.
The teenager revealed that when the boat first set out, the weather was absolutely fine. Quickly, however, it took a turn for the worst. “It started off all sunny – barely any clouds in the sky. When we got halfway through, there were some evil clouds. The wind started picking up. I saw a tree fall down. I was freaking out and the boat started leaning toward the right.”
She recalled her Dad having a final conversation with his wife, Pam Smith, who had skipped the trip so she could do some shopping.
“I noticed the weather getting bad. I knew where they were, so I called just to check on them. I said ‘are you on the lake?’ He said ‘Yes.’ I said ‘why?’ and he said ‘well, the weather wasn’t bad when we left but it has gotten bad.'”
“He says, ‘It’s not good, Pam,'” Pam told CBS of her last conversation with her husband shortly before the plummeted to the depths. “And I told him I loved him, he told me he loved me. And I asked him to take care of the kids. That was our last words.”
“Water started flooding to the boat, right before it sank. The guy didn’t tell us to wear life jackets, he was in shock, too.” Loren said of the moments after her Dad hung up. “There were little kids all around us. I know most of them didn’t make it. There were a lot of old people.”
Loren escaped the vessel, though she still does not know exactly how.
“I don’t know,” she said.
In that deep water you can’t really tell which ways which. I started banging on the roof, it came off I think. Then I just gave up and went in a different direction, and made it through.”
Loren said she couldn’t see anything at this point: “It was just murky water. I know I swallowed a lot of it trying to breathe.”
Being swayed back and forth by the current, the brave girl said she “gave everything I got to get to land.”
“I remember clinging on to the dock,” she added. “Some people were hanging on there for dear life. The waves just pushed me there.”
When asked about the escape routes passengers could take to flee the boat, the teenager said she was lucky to find a small opening. “It was just on one side,” she explained. “You would hit things if you tried to go out the back way, you might get tangled up.”
“I’m afraid my Dad did. He had heart troubles,” she continued. “Grandpa went on at him to eat more bananas so he didn’t have a heart attack. I’m afraid he might have had one there.”
Pam talked of her relief when she spotted Loren in the hospital but noted the deep pang of sadness that overcame her when she realized both her son and husband were not alongside her.
“I think I kissed her a thousand times because I love her so. But then my heart sunk too because Lance wasn’t there,” she said.
The mom said that Lance had only recently been baptized, and had even preached his first sermon at their church.
“Lance, he was recently baptized. This past Sunday, he preached. And I was so proud. And his little mini-sermon was on being a good example. He had such a big heart,” she said.
“Everybody was his friend.”
Osceola Church of Christ lead pastor, Will Hester, who baptized Lance, said that the teenager was like a son to him.
“This family, in particular, has been our best friends, and Lance is like a son to me,” Hester explained to The Christian Chronicle. “In fact, my wife took Lance, Loren, and Pam to Disney just this spring break.”
In a statement released Monday, “Ride the Ducks Branson” said they would be providing all the assistance required by families of the victims.
“We remain deeply saddened by the tragic accident that occurred at Ride the Ducks Branson. Our focus from the start has been on the guests, families, and employees who were affected last Thursday. Today, we continue to focus our efforts on the families,” the company said.
“We are offering to pay for all related medical bills and funeral expenses, return all personal items from the rescue scene, and assist with any related travel or accommodations that will help the families in their time of need. An event like this deeply touches everyone and we are also providing grief counseling to our employees who have been affected by this tragic accident.”
The company added that it was working closely with the NTSB to determine how the accident took place: “We are fully cooperating with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Highway Patrol and all federal and state authorities involved in the investigation. The investigation is being managed by the NTSB. Because we are a party to the NTSB investigation, we are not allowed to comment on any aspect of it. However, our job is to cooperate and provide information to those officials and to comfort the families of those affected by this tragic event.”
According to CNN, the ill-fated boat was lifted from the lake yesterday as the NTSB take custody of the vehicle in order to complete their investigations.
It has also been reported that none of the victims were wearing life jackets when they were discovered in the lake. “The captain did say something about life jackets. He said, ‘Above you are the life jackets, there are three sizes, but you won’t need them,'” Tia Coleman, who lost nine members of her family, explained to CNN Saturday night.
“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.”
According to the Associated Press, a Former Chairman of the NTSB, James Hall called for duck boats to be banned Saturday, citing safety concerns.
Last night, a large prayer vigil was held in an Indianapolis church for Tia Coleman and her the surviving members of her family. Hundreds of people showed up at Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church to show their support for the devastated family.
The Rev. Carl Liggins Sr noted that Coleman’s 13-year-old nephew had survived the ordeal. “We need to praise God for him.,” he added.