Coast Guard raises duck boat involved in fatal sinking

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(BRANSON, Mo.) — The U.S. Coast Guard on Monday supervised the salvage of the amphibious duck boat that sank Thursday evening during a storm on Table Rock Lake, killing 17 people, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The boat appeared largely intact with holes in its canvas top and some side windows still in place. Orange life vests hung from the top of the boat. Coast Guard officials declined to comment on the state of the boat, pending further investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

None of the 31 people aboard the boat, a 1944 GMC amphibious vehicle, was wearing a life preserver, according to an incident report filed Saturday by the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

The NTSB is investigating how the tour operator, Ride the Ducks Branson, which is owned by Ripley Entertainment, used weather information provided by a private service to determine to proceed with the cruise. The first 911 calls about the sinking came in at 7:09 p.m. Thursday, officials said, about half an hour after the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the area.

“The real objective is going to be what kind of information was on hand when they went out,” and how the decision was made to proceed with the tour, said NTSB member Earl Weener in a news conference Saturday night. “This was a squall that came up rather suddenly.”

Weener said wind speeds were recorded at 73 miles per hour, 2 mph less than hurricane force, and waves were 4 to 6 feet high.

The accident has cast new concerns on the safety of the duck-style tourist boats, many of which are modified versions of World War II-era troop transports. They have been involved in a number of fatal accidents over the years, and the NTSB has warned in the past about the safety of the boats — including the use of hard covers and windows that can make escape difficult for passengers in a sinking.

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The following is text of a news release from the U.S. Coast Guard:

(BRANSON, Mo.) — Salvage operations to remove Stretch Duck 7 from Table Rock Lake in Branson are complete Monday.

Salvage operations, coordinated by Ride the Ducks and overseen by the Coast Guard, successfully removed the sunken duck boat that was located off the stern of the Showboat Branson Belle on Monday morning.

Ride the Ducks contracted Fitzco Marine Group to complete salvage operations, and nine Missouri State Highway Patrol divers completed the diving portion of the salvage over the course of several days.

After the vessel was removed from the water, it was placed onto a flatbed trailer and will be taken under law enforcement escort to a secure location where the National Transportation Safety Board will take custody of it.

The Coast Guard safety zone that was previously in place around Showboat Branson Belle is no longer in effect.

“The outpouring of support by the city of Branson and members of this community is truly heartwarming and speaks to the character of Branson,” said Capt. Scott Stoermer, commander of Coast Guard Sector Upper Mississippi River. “We are extremely grateful to Showboat Branson Belle and their employees for graciously allowing us to use their facilities as our base of operations over the past few days. The tremendous cooperation and professionalism from everyone involved, especially the Missouri State Highway Patrol, allowed us to quickly and safely complete salvage operations so we may continue to focus on investigations and understanding all the factors that led to this tragedy.”  

Coast Guard and NTSB investigations into the circumstances surrounding the sinking of Stretch Duck 7 continue.

By Professional Mariner Staff