17 Dead After Duck Boat Capsizes Near Branson, Missouri

A duck boat with 31 people on board capsized and sank to the bottom of Table Rock Lake during a severe thunderstorm on Thursday, resulting in one of the deadliest duck boat accidents in American history.

For updates on the Missouri duck boat accident, read our latest article here.

Seventeen people were killed Thursday night when a tourist boat capsized in a southern Missouri lake as powerful thunderstorms passed through the Midwest, the authorities said on Friday.

The amphibious boat, or duck boat, overturned in Table Rock Lake near Branson, Mo., around 7 p.m. as winds exceeded 60 miles per hour. Cellphone video from a witness showed the boat taking on water and struggling to move as it was being pummeled with powerful waves before it sank.

The boat had 31 people on board when it sank to the bottom of the lake, all of whom are now accounted for, the authorities said. Seven people, including three children, were taken to a hospital, Cox Medical Center Branson, and two of them, both adults, were in critical condition, the hospital said on Friday.

Divers recovered the final six bodies on Friday morning, bringing the death toll to 17 and making it one of the deadliest duck boat accidents in United States history. Thirteen people were killed when a duck boat sank in Hot Springs, Ark., in May 1999.

Some of the dead were children. A sheriff’s deputy was on the scene when the accident happened and assisted in the rescue, Sheriff Doug Rader said. Divers searched for survivors until 11:30 p.m. and returned to the lake on Friday morning with members of the Missouri Highway Patrol to resume those efforts. They located the sunken boat shortly after.

There were two duck boats on the water during the storm, and both were returning to land at the time of the accident. “The first one made it out, and the second one didn’t,” Sheriff Rader said, adding that strong winds, which were part of a storm system that passed across much of the Midwest, caused the boat to capsize.

Credit...Sara Karnes/Branson Tri-Lakes News

The boat that sank had life jackets, but the sheriff said he did not know if people were wearing them. Of the 31 people on the boat, 29 were passengers and two were crew members. The boat’s captain, who had 16 years of experience on the lake, survived and was taken to a hospital, but the other crew member, who was described as the driver, died, the authorities said.

Jim Pattison Jr., the president of Ripley Entertainment, which owns the boat, said that the boat left the dock on Thursday when the weather was calm. “There were not any issues and they got out of the water and — and then it hit shortly thereafter,” Mr. Pattison told CNN on Friday morning. “It was almost like a microburst.”

The National Weather Service’s office in Springfield, Mo., issued a severe thunderstorm warning at 6:32 p.m. for southern Missouri, including Table Rock Lake, about 35 minutes before the authorities received the first calls about the sinking of the boat.

Jeff Raberding, a meteorologist in the Springfield office, said that the storm entered the area with wind gusts up to 75 m.p.h., which were followed by heavy rain and lightning.

“We knew there was going to be the potential for severe weather and knew that in advance,” Mr. Raberding said in an interview on Friday morning. “I wouldn’t call it necessarily a microburst because microbursts are usually small. This was pretty widespread.”

The National Transportation Safety Board said it would dispatch a “go team” to begin an investigation into the accident. The Coast Guard was also investigating.

Duck boats can drive on land and float on the water and are popular in cities like Seattle and Boston. In the water, passengers sit close to the surface, which critics have said makes them more dangerous than a typical boat.

Before Thursday’s accident, the deadliest event involving a duck boat was in May 1999 when the Miss Majestic sank to the bottom of Lake Hamilton in Arkansas, killing 13 people. The N.T.S.B. cited inadequate maintenance as the cause and ordered duck boat operators nationwide, including the company in Branson, to outfit their vessels with additional flotation devices to help prevent sinking.

Ripley Entertainment acquired the Ride the Ducks attraction in Branson last year. They are popular among visitors looking to tour the lake and the city’s entertainment district.

Branson, which is about 200 miles southeast of Kansas City, Mo., is a popular tourist and entertainment destination in the Ozark Mountains.

Mr. Pattison, the company president, said this was the first such accident at Ride the Ducks, which was started more than 40 years ago.

“People are supposed to be able to go out for an outing and have a good time,” he said. “We shouldn’t be out there in severe weather. We are absolutely devastated.”

Becca Blackstone, a manager of an Irish pub in Branson, said the duck boat tours are popular with tourists, and she has ridden them four times in her decade of living there. She said the tours, which usually last from an hour to 90 minutes, take tourists to land destinations like the College of the Ozarks and then onto the lake.

“It’s just a lot of fun, normally,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s nothing like this. And with them going out in the storm, I don’t necessarily know what that’s about because it’s not like we didn’t know about this storm.”

She said that in the four times she went on the duck boats, people were not required to wear life jackets, although the boat had them on board.

Ms. Blackstone said the accident was the “craziest thing” that had happened in the area since a tornado hit several years ago.

Steve Lindenberg, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s office in Springfield, Mo., about 45 miles north of Branson, said “a line of thunderstorms” rattled both areas on Thursday night and produced winds of up to 74 m.p.h. The winds downed trees and power lines, he said.

Mr. Lindenberg said a 63-mile-an-hour wind gust was recorded at Branson’s airport around 6:55 p.m. local time, though he did not know whether the winds had caused the boat to capsize.

He said the thunderstorms had since left Missouri and were moving into Arkansas.

Rod Donavon, a National Weather Service meteorologist in the agency’s office in Des Moines, Iowa, said several tornadoes swept through the central part of that state on Thursday, apparently damaging a warehouse, homes and other structures.

Two tornadoes, in the cities of Pella and Marshalltown, struck within about 30 minutes of each other and were particularly destructive, Mr. Donavon said. He described them as “strong” but said the exact strength of the winds was not yet clear.

Thursday’s episode was not the first to end with mass casualties to passengers on a duck boat. In addition to the incident in 1999, in 2010, a barge plowed into a duck boat packed with tourists that had stalled on the Delaware River, sending 37 people into the water and ultimately killing two.

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