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Duck boat survivor recalls accident terror: 'I've got to get to my babies'

An Indiana mother lost several members of her family, including her husband and three children.
/ Source: TODAY

As federal investigators continue their probe into the fatal capsizing of a duck boat in southwestern Missouri, survivors and families now face returning home to tragically altered lives.

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Last week's accident in Table Rock Lake outside Branson, Missouri, killed 17 passengers. Among them were nine members of Tia Coleman’s family, who were on vacation from Indiana. Coleman and her 13-year-old nephew were the only family members who survived.

"As I was swimming up I was praying, 'Lord, please let me get to my babies. I've got to get to my babies,’" Coleman recalled during a hospital press conference over the weekend.

Tia Coleman lost her husband and three children in last week's duck boat accident.TODAY

Among those killed in the accident were Coleman’s husband, Glenn, and their three children: 1-year-old Arya, Evan, 7, and Reece, 9.

“I don't know how I am going to do it,” she said about returning to Indiana. “Since I've had a home, it's always been filled. It's always been filled with little feet and laughter.”

Workers were expected to remove the sunken duck boat from the Missouri lake on Monday.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board said they hope to recover a video recorder that will provide some answers about what caused the accident.

Authorities reported that the boat was hit by a thunderstorm that brought winds just shy of a category one hurricane and that hit the boat with waves up to 6 feet high.

Coleman's family, in a souvenir photo taken before they boarded the duck boat.TODAY

Lorene Smith lost her son and grandson in the accident. Her daughter managed to escape and helped save the life of another child.

"She felt really bad because she said, 'I saw children all around me, in the water, screaming,'" Smith said. "And she said, 'I wanted to help them but the waves were so high. She said, it kept pushing me away.'"

The owner of the duck boat company, Ripley Entertainment, has voluntarily stopped all tours in the meantime. NTSB officials said the company has cooperated with the probe.

The company that owns the "Ride The Ducks" tours has halted rides temporarily while federal investigators look into last week's fatal accident.Michael Thomas / Getty Images

One private inspector, meanwhile, has told NBC News that he warned Ripley Entertainment last summer about a design flaw that could increase the risk of the boats sinking.

“Water would get up into the exhaust and eventually seize up the engine, which also drives the billage pump for the boat, so the boat wouldn't be able to evacuate its own water,” inspector Steven Paul said.

NBC News has not received a copy of Paul’s report, nor has it heard back from Ripley Entertainment with any comment.

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