Seventeen people are dead after an amphibious duck boat with tourists on board sank in a heavy storm near Branson, Missouri on Thursday.
The Stone County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the death toll on Friday morning after a dive team concluded recovery efforts to find four missing bodies.
The boat, from Ride the Ducks Branson, was one of two vessels caught in a heavy storm that rolled into the area about 7 p.m. local time. Videos posted on local media showed two boats struggling to make it to shore on Table Rock Lake amid heavy windy and choppy waters.
There were 31 people – 29 passengers and two crew members – aboard the capsized boat, according to the Stone County Sheriff’s Office. At a press conference Friday morning, Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said the driver of the duck boat died in the accident, but the boat’s captain was among the survivors. He said an off-duty sheriff’s deputy working on security for the nearby Branson Belle riverboat in Table Rock Lake helped to rescue people in the water after the accident.
“It’s been a long night and a very trying night,” Rader said.
Seventeen people have been confirmed dead, including children. Fourteen survived, with seven taken to hospital. Those who died ranged in age from 1 to 70 years old, according to Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Jason Pace.
Rader said Friday morning that he did not have more information about whether the boat operators had checked the weather forecast before leaving shore or whether passengers had been wearing life jackets on board.
The National Transportation Safety Board has dispatched a team to investigate the cause of the accident.
“Right now, it’s just a time for thoughts and prayers. There’s a lot of healing that has to take place right now,” Missouri Governor Mike Parson said at Friday’s press conference. “All those details will come in time, but for right now, it’s about really trying to protect the families, to unite the families and to deal with the situation they’re in. I think that’s the most important thing.”
WOW – video captures duck tour boat sinking in Missouri w/31 people on board. 11 people are dead, including children, 5 people are still missing in the lake and 7 are in the hospital. You can see there was terrible weather. A severe thunderstorm warning was issued 30 mins before. pic.twitter.com/w8T17pE37B
— Erica Rakow (@EricaRakow) July 20, 2018
Who are the victims of the duck boat accident?
The names of the victims have not been released yet. The Stone County Sheriff’s Office said survivors and family members can go to the Branson City Hall to be reunited.
The sheriff’s office also set up a phone number for information about those on board the boat. Family members can call 417-337-8515.
Why did the duck boat sink?
Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader attributed the sinking to heavy winds.
The National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the Branson area Thursday evening. Wind speeds reached 60 mph, a weather service meteorologist in Springfield told the Associated Press.
“They were coming back to land. There were actually two ducks. The first one made it out and the second one didn’t,” Rader said at a press conference Thursday night.
Video posted to the Springfield News-Leader showed the two boats struggling to make it to shore in heavy wind and waves. Onlooker Jennie P. Carr, who was on the Branson Belle Showboat as people had dinner, recorded footage of the boat’s nose sinking below the water. The camera turned away before the boat sank.
“It got closer to us on the Showboat and you could see water going into the boat. I did see he was starting to sink. It was leaning to the right,” she told the newspaper.
She said the boat was out of sight when it sank.
What is the duck boat operator saying?
On Friday morning the operators’ website was replaced by an image of a black ribbon, with a statement reading: “We are deeply saddened by the tragic accident that occurred at Ride The Ducks Branson. This incident has deeply affected all of us. Words cannot convey how profoundly our hearts are breaking.”
It continued, “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. The safety of our guests and employees is our number one priority. Ride the Ducks will be closed for business while we support the investigation, and to allow time to grieve for the families and the community.”
“Thank you for your support, and we ask that your thoughts and prayers be with the families during this time.”
Have duck boats sunk before?
In 1999, a duck boat on Lake Hamilton, Arkansas, sank drowning 13 of its 21 passengers. After that incident, the National Transportation Safety Board said the roof canopy of the boat was to blame, after finding four of the victims pinned against the roof at the bottom of the lake. Three more were also trapped inside the boat.
What is a duck boat?
A duck boat is the colloquial name for an amphibious vehicle that can operate on land and in the water. The vehicles are based off a military design first used during World War II. They are now a common vehicle in lake tours around the world.
Ride The Ducks Branson was acquired by entertainment giant Ripley in December 2017.
How are officials responding?
Missouri Governor Mike Parson ordered all flags at government offices in the state to be flown at half-staff for a week to honor the victims of the boating accident.
Very sad to hear about this horrible accident – prayers for all those involved and the first responders who are assisting. https://t.co/PQ56zagc0s
— Governor Mike Parson (@GovParsonMO) July 20, 2018
President Donald Trump tweeted his condolences to the victims of the accident, saying “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!”
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 20, 2018
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. https://t.co/RrASkl0fcU
— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) July 20, 2018
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.
— Senator Roy Blunt (@RoyBlunt) July 20, 2018
Terrible tragedy on Table Rock Lake last night. Erin and I are praying for the families involved and for the missing. My office ready to assist law enforcement as needed in investigation. https://t.co/KM0XaR541z
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) July 20, 2018
Just spoke with Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri about the tragic loss of life in Branson from the boat incident. I am grateful for the divers at work and our heart goes out to the families. Arkansas stands ready to help.
— Gov. Asa Hutchinson (@AsaHutchinson) July 20, 2018