Seventeen people died when an amphibious duck boat capsized in a Branson, Missouri, lake Thursday evening as a severe storm swept through the area.
The duck boat was one of two amphibious tour boats in Branson’s Table Rock Lake. Both duck boats battled waves crashing from all directions and strong winds. One boat made it safely back to shore but the other was inundated with water and sank quickly.
There were 31 people aboard the duck boat at the time, including two crew members. Various reports say that a number of children were among the 17 people killed. Fourteen of those aboard survived and about half of those were treated for injuries.
Amphibious duck boats are based on World War II era buses that can drive into the water and operate like a boat. Some of the amphibious buses have been updated and converted for use as tour boats throughout the U.S., while others are newer boats based on the WWII DUKW vehicles designed by General Motors.
Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said there appeared to be lifejackets aboard the troubled duck boat, but it wasn’t clear how many people were wearing them, according to ABC News.
According to ABC News, a number of visitors said that the weather was rough as the duck boats started the lake tour.
One visitor, Tony Burkhart, posted a video on Twitter showing the stormy conditions on the lake before the duck boat capsized. He Tweeted that he and his wife were going to take the duck boat tour but decided not to because of the weather conditions.
“We saw high winds + bad weather roll in, so I decided to get a refund and leave with my wife,” he Tweeted. Headed out, countless first responders + emergency vehicles were going in #Branson to help with the #DuckBoat incident. Branson Belle crew helped toss life preservers to those overboard.”
Allison Lester, who was on another boat nearby, told ABC’s Good Morning America that the conditions at the lake “were rough.”
“The wind really picked up bad and debris was flying everywhere,” Ms. Lester told ABC. Her boyfriend, Trent Behr, said they could hear the captain of the doomed boat warning passengers that the boat was sinking. He and several other witnesses helped by tossing lifejackets into the water and helping pull at least one passenger from the lake.
The Branson duck boats are operated by Ride the Ducks Branson. The company offers two Branson-areas tours, according to a company webpage, including a Table Rock Lake tour.
“Your captain will fill you in on the juiciest details. And you won’t have to worry, because every captain has a Captain’s License from the United State Coast Guard,” the Ride the Ducks Branson website says.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has sent a team to Branson to investigate the accident. The agency also investigated a Ride the Ducks duck boat crash in Seattle that killed five people and injured 62 others on Sept. 24, 2015. The NTSB said the bus was crossing the Aurora Bridge in Seattle when its front axle detached, causing the vehicle to swerve into oncoming traffic.