Nearly two years after a Ride the Ducks amphibious vehicle sank in Branson Missouri’s Table Rock Lake killing 17 people, federal investigators found that the company’s failure to observe severe weather warnings led to the disaster, among other problems.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated the tragic sinking of a Ride the Ducks vessel that went out for a lake cruise on July 19, 2018, despite warnings of severe weather in the area.
On Tuesday, April 28, the agency met to issue a final determination on the cause of the accident and make recommendations to improve the safety of similar amphibious tourist vessel operations throughout the country.
The NTSB found that the weather service had issued severe storm warnings for the area with enough time to stop the vessel, known as Duck 7, from venturing into the lake.
“Ride the Ducks of Branson continued to operate waterborne tours after a severe thunderstorm warning had been issued,” the NTSB’s final report states. “This exposed the vessel to a derecho, which resulted in waves flooding through a non-weathertight air intake hatch on the bow, which caused the vessel to sink.”
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said during Monday’s meeting that the investigation turned up a “systemic problem with the company as a whole.”
“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.
The NTSB also faulted the U.S. Coast Guard for its failure to mandate changes to amphibious vessels that the board had repeatedly urged following a 1999 Ride the Ducks boat accident in Arkansas that killed 13 people.
The 33-foot-long World War II-era amphibious vessel had been modified to carry passengers on both land and water. Those modifications and the vessel’s heavy structure contributed to its rapid sinking and the entrapment of several passengers.
The NTSB previously recommended that the vessels be upgraded to stay buoyant in a flooding situation and remove the canopies and other barriers that make the vessel a death trap. The Coast Guard chose to ignore the NTSB’s recommendations but reversed course earlier this month when U.S. Coast Guard vice admiral Daniel Abel sent the NTSB a letter agreeing to the NTSB-recommended modifications.
“The removal of canopies, side curtains, and associated framing from the DUKW fleet would improve emergency egress,” the NTSB report stated. The Coast Guard said it would issue a Marine Safety Information Bulletin, the first step in the process.
Duck boat captain Scott McKee is charged with 17 counts of misconduct, negligence or inattention to duty in connection with the accident. Two Ripley Entertainment executives also remain under criminal investigation. Ripley Entertainment owns and operates Ride the Ducks of Branson.
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Additional source: CNN