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'Duck Boats' Have A History Of Fatal Accidents

The incident Thursday night in Missouri is the deadliest duck boat accident in history, but it's not the first.
Josh Miller/Flickr
The incident Thursday night in Missouri is the deadliest duck boat accident in history, but it's not the first.

The death toll from the capsized tourist "duck boat" in Branson, Missouri, has risen to 17, making it the deadliest accident involving a duck boat in North America.

Thirteen people died when a duck boat in Arkansas sank in 1999, drawing national headlines. Since then, 13 more people have been killed in North American duck boat-related accidents, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Those numbers include deaths both on land and in water, but not those who died at Table Rock Lake Thursday night.

The 1999 incident in Arkansas was the deadliest involving a duck boat before yesterday and led to a 65-page National Transporation Safety Board report. According to that report, an amphibious tourist boat called the Miss Majestic sank in Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs, Arkansas, killing 13 of the 21 people on board.

The report attributed the accident in part to poor maintenance of the boat, which was a repurposed military vehicle. The report also said the boat's weather canopy prevented more people from escaping.

"Contributing to the high loss of life was a continuous canopy roof that entrapped passengers within the sinking vehicle," the report stated.

The maintenance condition of the Table Rock Lake boat is not known, but the vehicle had a roof that's visible in a video of the incident.

Of the five duck boat incidents resulting in deaths since the Arkansas boat sank, three involved vehicles owned by Ride the Ducks, the Branson-based company that owns the capsized Table Rock Lake boat. According to the Branson Tri-Lakes News, Ripley Entertainment purchased the company from Herschend Family Entertainment in December. Herschend had owned the company since 2004.

Not long after a woman riding a motor scooter was killed in a collision with a duck vehicle on a Boston street  in 2016, Ride the Ducks shut down its Philadelphia attraction, saying its insurance premiums had more than quadroupled.

Two previous deadly incidents involved Ride the Ducks vehicles from Philadelphia. The Philaldelphia Enquirer reportedon the shutdown in October 2016 and noted the families of tourists killed in a 2010 collision between a duck boat and a barge had been awarded $17 million in court.

The lawyer representing those victims, Robert J. Mongeluzzi, told the Enquirer the design of the vehicles is flawed and called them "death traps."

Chris Davis, a lawyer who represented two of the five passengers killed in a collision between a Ride the Ducks boat and a charter bus in Seattle in 2015, told the Enquirer the boats had visibility problems and were too big to drive on city streets.

The canopy was another concern for both lawyers. Despite the safety concerns they raise in the water, duck boats continue to operate with canopies.

The Table Rock Lake incident is the only fatal duck boat accident so far in which bad weather has been a contributing factor. Thunderstorms with wind gusts of up to 70 miles per hour plowed through southwest Missouri Thursday night, according to the National Weather Service.

The Stone County Sheriff's Department, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the accident.

Nicolas Telep is KCUR's morning news intern. You can follow him on Twitter @NDTelep.

Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Nicolas Telep