Missouri duck boat capsizes in lake amid violent storm; children among several dead
Four more people were confirmed dead Friday after a Missouri duck boat capsized on a Branson-area lake the night before, bringing the death toll in the tragedy to 17 and ending rescue efforts with all passengers and crew accounted for.
Some of the fatalities were children, officials said. Four adults and three children were brought to the hospital after the Thursday night accident, including two who remained in critical condition Friday. The other patients had minor injuries, authorities said. Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Jason Pace said those who died were between the ages of 1 to 70 years old, KMOV reported.
Harrowing cell phone footage appeared to show the vessel taking on water and having trouble moving as rough waters pummeled the boat. Jim Pattison Jr., president of “Ride the Ducks” owner Ripley Entertainment, told “CBS This Morning” the “fast-moving storm” came out of “basically nowhere.” But, Pattison said, the vessel “shouldn’t have been in the water.”
“I don’t have all the details, but to answer your question, no, it shouldn’t have been in the water if, if what happened, happened,” Pattison said. “This business has been operating for 47 years and we’ve never had an incident like this or anything close to it. To the best of our knowledge – and we don’t have a lot of information now – but it was a fast-moving storm that came out of basically nowhere is sort of the verbal analysis I’ve got.”
Weather experts said a strong wind was blowing in the region, and those gusts became even more turbulent on the lake because there are no structures to slow it down.
“There were winds in excess of 60 mph at that time,” National Weather Service meteorologist Cory Rothstein said. “The lines of storms themselves were moving very quickly…There were 3-feet waves on the lake.”
The incident occurred around 7:09 p.m. Central time, when the land- and water-capable boat was ferrying 29 passengers and two crew members across the lake. It was not immediately clear if the vessel was filled to capacity at the time of the incident.
Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said there were life vests on the boat, but it wasn’t immediately clear if the passengers had them on when the craft capsized. Rader said an off-duty sheriff’s deputy near the boat during the incident immediately sprang into action, helping people get to safety. Divers were currently at the lake searching for the missing people and have located the boat underwater. Rader described the search as a “recovery mode for the bodies taht are still missing” during a news conference on Friday.
Rader confirmed the captain of the boat survived but the driver did not. The sheriff said the incident was under investigation.
At the time of the storm, two “Ride the Ducks” boats were in the water. The other boat made it to shore safely, and a passeger on that boat took cellphone video to show just how violent the water had become.
The National Transportation Safety Board said on Twitter that investigators will arrive on the scene Friday morning.
Witnesses described what they saw during the tragic incident. Trent Behr and his girlfriend Allison Lester told the Kansas City Star they were on a showboat that never left the dock due to the rough waters when they witnessed two duck boats struggling in the lake.
Behr said he saw a woman lying in the water before pulling her up onto the boat. He said she was unconscious and that he was getting ready to start CPR when emergency responders arrived.
“We’re shaken,” Lester said. “We’re just standing there, like ‘How could this have happened.’ Surreal.”
“All of a sudden we see the staff just running back and forth with life jackets so one of the workers actually went into the water and another civilian went into the water and helped bring them out,” Behr told Fox News.
“Ride the Ducks” is a “70-minute guided amphibious tour that takes guests through the scenic Ozarks on both land and water,” according to its website.
In a statement, spokesperson Suzanne Smagala-Potts said the company was “deeply saddened by this tragic accident.”
“This incident has deeply affected all of us. 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,” Smagala-Potts said.
President Trump also expressed his condolences to those affected by the incident.
“My deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those involved in the terrible boat accident which just took place in Missouri. Such a tragedy, such a great loss. May God be with you all!” Trump tweeted.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson shared his prayers on Twitter for “all those involved,” while Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., thanked the first responders who burst into action.
“Tragedy here in Missouri this evening. Heavy hearts for the families of those who have died and are hurt. And as always sincere thanks to the first responders,” McCaskill tweeted.
“Deeply saddened by the tragedy at Table Rock Lake. My prayers are with the families and friends who lost their loved ones. Thank you to the first responders who are assisting,” Blunt tweeted.
Duck boats, known for their ability to travel on land and in water, have been involved in other deadly incidents in the past. Those accidents include one in 2015 in Seattle in which five college students were killed when a boat collided with a bus, and one in 1999 that left 13 people dead after the boat sank near Hot Springs, Arkansas. Safety advocates have sought improvements to duck boats since the Arkansas incident.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.