BRANSON, Mo. — Tia Coleman has always loved the water.
She and 10 members of her family made plenty of memories playing in the pool at their Branson hotel while on vacation from Indiana. But when they took a boat tour on Table Rock Lake Thursday and the water started pouring in, Coleman didn't know what to do.
She couldn't see. Water was rushing in. Soon she couldn't even feel her son who had been sitting next to her on the duck boat, an amphibious vessel that can travel on road and water.
Coleman, who lost nine family members in the ship's capsizing, shared her story of survival Saturday afternoon at a news conference at the hospital where she's being treated.
"I thought I was dead," she said, recounting the moment she was sucked under. "I didn't know how to get out."
Coleman, sitting in a wheelchair and flanked by loved ones, said she didn't see a cloud in the sky when she boarded the Ride the Ducks boat with her family. Crew members told them a storm was heading toward the area but there didn't appear to be any danger.
Crew members told them about the life jackets, stored above their seats in three different sizes. "But don't worry," Coleman said the crew told the guests, "You won't need them."
Even as the swells grew, she and her family didn't feel fear, and the crew, she says, never told them to put on the life jackets. It wasn't until water started making its way into the vessel that Coleman realized the danger they were in.
Water splashed on her face. She couldn't see. Her family was gone. Then she hit her head.
"I just remember, 'I got to get out. I got to get out,' " she said, adding she wasn't sure how she made it out of the vessel. "I just remember kicking and swimming."
She fought to get to the surface but said she kept getting dragged back down. Soon she started praying: “I said Lord, please, let me get to my babies. I gotta get to my babies."
She said that after a while she felt there was nothing left to do but give up her fight and let go, allowing God to take her. But that, she said, allowed her to float to the surface.
Waves crashed over her face, but in between swallowing water she was able to scream out "Help!" while waving her hands.
Passengers from a nearby boat, who Coleman called "angels," threw her life preservers and jumped in the water to help her and others.
"When they pulled me up in the boat, I didn’t see any of my family," she said. "But I believe I survived by God."
In total, she lost her husband, three children, her uncle, nephew, mother-in-law, father-in-law and sister-in-law. The Stone County Sherrif's Office released their names: Angela Coleman, Arya Coleman, Belinda Coleman, Evrin Coleman, Glenn Coleman, Horace Coleman, Maxwell Coleman and Reece Coleman.
She described her love for each of them and how tough her new journey would be. Coleman said her home was always filled with people, and now her three children and husband were stolen from her.
"I don’t know how I’m going to do it," she said.
When the totality of the situation hit her, she told God, “If they don’t make it, Lord take me, too, there's no reason for me to be here.”
Asked whether she was happy to be alive, she told a reporter, "I don't know yet, time will tell."
She added: "The only thing I can think of is that God must have something for me. There's no way I should be here."
Contributing: Wyatt D. Wheeler, Springfield News-Leader, who reported from Branson, Mo. Hayes reported from Washington.