Seventeen people, whose ages range from 1-year-old to 70 years of age and include 9 members of one family, have been confirmed dead following the sinking of tourist sightseeing "duck boat" on Table Rock Lake near the popular vacation spot of Branson, Missouri. The sinking occurred after a severe thunderstorm struck the lake with near-hurricane force winds, causing the boat to take on water and eventually sink in 40 to 60 feet of water.
The "Duck Boat" Accident
It must be recognized that, in the hours and days following a tragedy such as the Table Rock Lake sinking, much of what is reported as "news" is nothing more than "speculation." With this in mind, the following description is taken from reports in the news media and from "official" sources such as first responders and law enforcement agencies.
According to early reports, 2 "duck boats" belonging to Ride the Ducks Branson took on full loads of passengers and departed on what would have been a one-hour sightseeing tour of Table Rock Lake. Shortly afterwards, at about 7:00 p.m., a thunderstorm struck the area. Witnesses stated that both boats were buffeted by high winds and whitecap waves of up to 3 feet in height. At that time the boat that eventually sank attempted to either return to its dock or, at least, move into shallower waters. That boat appeared to be taking on water or to have suffered a loss of power when it appeared to capsize and disappeared from view.
Discussion Surrounding The Boat Accident
As noted in the previous section, much of what passes for "news" following a tragedy is actually "speculation." However, there are several questions that will have to be addressed early in the investigation.
Why did the duck boat leave its dock/loading area if it was known that severe weather was entering the area?
According to the National Weather Service (NWS), wind gusts as high as 60-65 miles per hour were being reported as a severe thunderstorm moved from Branson into the Table Rock Lake area. In fact, the NWS had issued a severe thunderstorm warning at 6:32 p.m., a half-hour before local police and first responders received word of the sinking.
Speaking on "CBS This Morning" Jim Pattison Jr., president of Ripley Entertainment, the parent company Ride the Ducks Branson, said that it was his understanding that a "a fast-moving storm" hit the lake and that some of the company's other boats had been in the water earlier in the day. But he acknowledged that, according to the information he had received, the boat should not have been on the water.
Did the duck boat's driver have the training/experience to deal with emergency situations?
This question will remain unanswered until later in the investigation, when the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will present their findings. However, there are indications that the boat's driver (who also died in the accident) may have been unfamiliar with emergency procedures.
Cellphone video of the accident suggests that the boat was attempting to return to its dock or to less-turbulent waters when it began taking on water. In doing so, the boat's driver had to turn the boat toward shore and thus exposed the side of the boat to the wind-driven waves rather than the bow (front). Given the observed height of the waves, it is possible that this maneuver may have caused the boat to take on water at a faster rate than the other boat, which did not sink.
Were there sufficient personal floatation devices ("lifejackets") for the number of passengers on board?
According to Missouri law, all boats are required to have sufficient lifejackets on board for each passenger. However, there is no law that requires the passengers to actually wear a lifejacket. Cellphone video taken inside the other Ride the Ducks Branson boat does not show passengers wearing lifejackets nor is there any indication that they were being distributed to the passengers.
As you can imagine, the investigation into this incident will be ongoing. As the situation warrants, we will provide updates to inform our readers of any significant developments in determining the cause of this tragic accident.