The primary cause of the sinking of a tourist-carrying duck boat on a Missouri lake in July 2018, in which 17 people were killed, was the continued operation of the vessel during severe weather, despite severe weather warnings issued by the National Weather Service before the boat left its dock with 31 people onboard, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
During a virtual public meeting on April 28, the NTSB said the operators of the amphibious passenger vessel Stretch Duck 7, owned by Ripley Entertainment Inc., dba Ride The Ducks of Branson, failed to heed the severe thunderstorm warnings. As a result, the 33-foot-long, modified, World War II-era DUKW amphibious passenger vessel, was exposed to a “derecho,” which sent “waves flooding through a non-weathertight air intake hatch on the bow,” causing it to sink, according to NTSB.
Two crew members and 29 passengers were on board the vessel, which sank July 19, 2018, on Missouri’s Table Rock Lake.
The U.S. Coast Guard’s failure to require sufficient reserve buoyancy in amphibious vessels was also a contributing factor, NTSB investigators found. Stretch Duck 7 had a low freeboard, an open hull, and no subdivision or flotation, which left it without adequate reserve buoyancy.
The fixed canopy of the Stretch Duck 7 contributed to the severity of the accident as its design impeded passenger egress as the vessel took on water and sank, the NTSB said.
“Had Ride The Ducks employees taken more appropriate actions and made better decisions, it is likely the duck boat would not have sunk, because they would not have continued operations based on the weather forecast and prevailing conditions,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt during the virtual meeting.
The National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the area, several hours before the sinking. That watch was followed by a severe thunderstorm warning 1 minute before Stretch Duck 7 departed its boarding dock. Three other company vessels also entered the lake after the warning was issued.
The NTSB issued six safety recommendations with three recommendations issued to the Ripley Entertainment Inc. dba Ride The Ducks and three recommendations to the US Coast Guard. They address safety issues including company oversight, engine compartment ventilation closures, reserve buoyancy, survivability, weather training for mariners, and Coast Guard guidance.
The NTSB previously issued two safety recommendations on Nov. 13, 2019, calling for sufficient reserve buoyancy and improved emergency egress on DUKW amphibious passenger vessels.
The Associated Press reported that Ripley Entertainment has settled 31 lawsuits filed by survivors or relatives of those who died. The dead included nine members of one family from Indianapolis. Other victims were from Missouri, Illinois and Arkansas.
The boat’s captain and two company executives were indicted after the sinking. Curtis Lanham, the general manager at Ride the Ducks Branson, and Charles Baltzell, the operations supervisor, are charged with misconduct and neglect.
The boat’s captain, Kenneth Scott McVee, of Verona, is charged with 17 counts of misconduct, negligence or inattention to duty. Investigators contend he did not tell the boat’s passengers to don life jackets or help them abandon ship even after water started swamping the boat.
Source: NTSB, Associated Press
About the photo: The Stretch Duck 7, a modified WWII DUKW amphibious passenger vessel, shown in this July 25, 2018, photo after it was recovered from Table Rock Lake near Branson Missouri. The vessel sank during a storm July 19, 2018. (NTSB Photo by Brian Young)
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