Divers on Friday pulled the last four bodies from the wreckage of a “duck boat” that capsized in a storm on a Missouri lake, killing 17 people, the local sheriff’s office confirmed to CBC News.
The amphibious Ride the Ducks vehicle was carrying 31 passengers, including children, when a microburst storm hit Table Rock Lake outside the tourist city of Branson on Thursday.
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Twenty-nine passengers and two crew members were aboard for a pleasure cruise Thursday evening.
Nine victims are believed to be from the same family. Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Jason Pace said those who died ranged in age from one to 70.
The nine family members who died were from Indianapolis, said Thomas Griffith, suffragan bishop of Zion Tabernacle Apostolic Faith Church in Indianapolis. He did not name them.
Two people from the family survived, a spokesperson for Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said.
Authorities said a total of 14 people survived, including the duck boat’s captain. Seven of them were hurt when the vessel went down.
Investigators blamed stormy weather for the accident. Winds at the time were blowing as hard a 105 km/h, according to the National Weather Service.
The weather service station in Springfield, about 64 kilometres north of Branson, issued a severe thunderstorm watch for its immediate area on Thursday, saying conditions were ripe for winds of 110 km/h. It followed up at 6:32 p.m. CT with a severe thunderstorm warning for three counties that included Branson and the lake. The warning mentioned both locations.
The boat went down about 40 minutes later, shortly after 7 p.m. CT. Another duck boat on the lake made it safely back to shore.
Trisha Ayers was among the mourners who stopped to pay their respects at a parked car that was covered with flowers because it was believed to belong to a dead tourist.
Ayers said she understood how the boat got caught on the lake because the weather on Thursday evening changed in 10 minutes from sunshine to gale-force winds that bent traffic signs.
“I hope it won’t tarnish Branson,” she said with tears in her eyes. “About 80 per cent of our income comes from tourists. We love them.”
By order of <a href=”https://twitter.com/GovParsonMO?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@GovParsonMO</a>, effective immediately, all flags at all State and government offices will be flown at half-staff, until sunset, July 27, 2018, honoring the victims of the boating accident at Table Rock Lake in Stone County.
Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said the victims’ names were not being released while families were still being notified.
Branson Mayor Karen Best said Bob Williams was driving the Ride the Ducks boat that sunk Thursday night. She said Williams, who was also known as Capt. Bob, was a “great ambassador for Branson” and “was at every event.”
Williams’s wife learned of her husband’s death at city hall where victims’ families had gathered, the mayor said.
Rader said he understood there were life-jackets on board the duck boat but he was unable to say if passengers had been wearing them.
“This is a really tough situation and it’s gut wrenching,” city spokesperson Melody Pettit told a brief news conference outside the community’s city hall Friday. “But we are doing our best to try to help.”
A woman on a nearby vessel captured video of the duck boat being tossed on the water just before it sank.
Pat Cox, the owner of a marina about a half mile from where the vessel went down, sent five boats and about 20 people to help with the rescue.
“These people showed an amazing strength maybe that we don’t always give them credit for,” Cox said by telephone. “They had it and they took action. And they were good Samaritans.”
The crew on the first boat was able to pull two people from the waves, Cox said. “It was all hands on deck, we did everything we could.”
Rick Kettles, the owner of the Lakeside Resort General Store and Restaurant, said he had never before seen conditions on Table Rock Lake like Thursday’s.
“I am 54 and I started coming here when I was 6 or 7 years old. I have been on my lake most of my life and I have never seen it like this,” Kettles said. “I am trying to figure out why the boats were out there. I don’t get it, having a captain’s licence myself.”
On Friday, divers located the vessel, which came to rest on its wheels about 25 metres deep on the lakebed.
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Suzanne Smagala with Ripley Entertainment, which owns Ride the Ducks in Branson, said the company was assisting authorities with the rescue effort. She said this was the Branson tour’s first accident in more than 40 years of operation.
Ripley is in turn owned by the Vancouver-based Jim Pattison Group, which declined comment and directed inquiries to Ripley Entertainment.
Branson, located about 320 kilometres southeast of Kansas City, is a popular vacation spot for families and other tourists looking for entertainment ranging from theme parks to live music. It draws 7.2 million visitors a year, according to city tourism officials.
Duck boats have been involved in a string of deadly incidents that have killed more than three dozen people across
North America over the past two decades, by drowning and in crashes on land.
Four people — including a mother and her two young children — drowned in the Ottawa River when an amphibious pleasure craft, the Lady Duck, sank in 2002.
In Seattle, in 2015, five college students were killed when a boat collided with a bus. The company that builds ducks, Ride the Ducks International LLC, agreed to pay a $1 million US fine the following year.
And in 1999, 13 people died when the duck boat they were riding near Hot Springs, Ark., sank suddenly. Following that
incident, the NTSB warned the boats’ canopy roofs presented a hazard, making it difficult for people, even those wearing a life jacket, to escape when the craft begins to sink.
“You drown if you do, you drown if you don’t,” said Robert Mongeluzzi, a Philadelphia lawyer who has represented victims of other duck boat disasters.
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