At Least 13 Dead, Others Missing After Tour Boat Sinks In Missouri Lake

July 20, 2018

Updated at 10:51 a.m. ET

At least 13 people are dead and four people are missing after an amphibious tourist boat carrying 31 passengers capsized and sank Thursday during a severe squall in a lake in southern Missouri.

The Ride the Ducks Branson boat sank on Table Rock Lake near the resort town of Branson on Thursday. Multiple people are still missing. Divers worked through the night on rescue operations, and rescue and recovery efforts are ongoing.

The capsize occurred during a storm that produced gusts of 60 to 80 mph. Life jackets were available inside the boat, but authorities can’t say whether passengers were wearing them.

The boat is now located on the bottom of the lake, Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said in a press conference Friday.

Divers are still searching for four missing people. The captain of the duck boat survived, but the driver of the vehicle was among the fatalities, Rader said.

Rader would not comment on the ages of the victims, but Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Jason Pace told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that they range from the very young to the elderly.

At least 14 people survived the sinking. Rader said late Thursday that seven people had been hospitalized, and a local hospital tweeted that it was treating seven patients, two of whom are in critical condition.

Rader also said an off-duty sheriff’s deputy working security at the Showboat Branson Belle showboat helped rescue some of the passengers.

The Ride the Ducks Branson tour company posted on its website that it is closed for business while they support the investigation.

“Words cannot convey how profoundly our hearts are breaking,” the company said. “We will continue to do all we can to assist the families who were involved and the authorities as they continue with the search and rescue.”

In an interview with CNN, Missouri Gov. Michael Parson called the incident “just a terrible, horrific tragic accident.”

In a video posted on The Springfield News-Leader‘s website, patrons eating dinner at a restaurant on the nearby Showboat Branson Belle watched the tragedy unfold.

The duck boat can be seen struggling to make headway against a train of wind-driven waves. To the gasps of the onlookers, it finally sinks.

A video posted to Facebook from an account belonging to the Lakeside Resort & Restaurant on Table Lake shows waves rolling into a dock, with a witness saying “I’ve never seen it this bad. Boats can’t get in, boats can’t get out.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the sinking. The board is asking any other witnesses, including those with video or photos of the accident, to email witness@ntsb.gov.

The incident reportedly occurred at around 7 p.m. local time.

The National Weather Service reported that a heavy storm paced through the county beginning at about 6:30 p.m., reaching Table Rock Dam at about the time of the accident. The NWS predicted gusts of 60-70 mph.

However, the News-Leader quotes Capt. Jim Pulley, owner of a Sea Tow service on Table Lake, as saying the storm hit with 80 mph winds that produced five-foot waves.

Pulley’s Sea Tow boats were helping with crowd control at the Showboat Branson Belle when the capsize of the duck boat occurred.

Jim Pattison is the president of Ripley Entertainment, which owns Ride the Ducks Branson. He told CNN that his understanding was that the weather was calm when the boat went in the water.

“It was almost like a micro burst,” he said. “We had boats out there, it was perfectly calm, and we had a high-speed wind system that just came out of nowhere.”

Multiple companies operate duck vehicle tours in cities across America. Some use restored World War II-era amphibious DUKW vehicles, while others use newer vehicles in the style of the original DUKWs.

In 1999, a duck tour sank in a lake in Arkansas, killing 13 people.

In 2010, a Ride the Ducks amphibious vehicle was involved in a water accident in Philadelphia that left two people dead.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that a tugboat driver, distracted by using a cell phone and laptop, caused the crash, but that Ride the Ducks staff contributed to the accident by failing to check equipment and by stopping in a navigation channel without taking appropriate safety measures.

In 2016, the company stopped operating in Philadelphia, citing rising insurance premiums, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported at the time.

Other duck boat accidents have occurred on land, including fatal accidents in 2015 and 2016.

This is a developing story. Some things that get reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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