The Missouri Duck Boat Disaster Raises Safety Concerns

Last week on July 19, 2018, a "duck boat" capsized and sunk on the Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri. The boat was operated by a company known as Ride the Ducks. It sank during high winds associated with nearby thunderstorms at the Ozarks with 31 people on board, killing 17.

A "duck boat" is a vehicle actually formally used by the United States military. The wheeled amphibious vehicles have been used over the last 50 years at major tourist destinations.

What Caused the Duck Boat to Capsize on Table Rock Lake?

On the day of the incident, approximately an hour prior to the sinking, the National Weather Service did issue a severe thunderstorm warning for the lake. The NWS advised that the winds at the time were in excess of 60 MPH and waves were three feet high. It is unknown whether or not the crew was aware of the weather warnings.

CNN has reported that according to Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, the duck boat did change its route. Investigators want to know why the route was altered. CNN also reported that in 2017, the duck boat was inspected by Steven Paul who noted issues with the exhaust system - issues he says would not have passed the Missouri Department of Transportation's standards. Mr. Paul stated: "There is a huge disconnect between the US Coast Guard and the Department of Transportation."

No Victims Were Wearing the Life Jackets that Were on Board

Also, it is clear that none of the victims were wearing life jackets when the boat capsized and safety officials are wondering why. Some have speculated that because of the canopy above the passengers, it would have actually been more dangerous to have a life vest on and get trapped under the canopy. There clearly remain many questions.

This is not the first duck boat tragedy. In 1999, 13 people died in Hot Springs, Arkansas as a result of a duck boat accident. With regard to that incident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) noted various causes for the incident including inadequate maintenance, inadequate reserve buoyancy and the continuous canopy roof.

Investigators arrived at the scene the following day. The US Coast Guard pulled the boat up from the bottom of the lake, approximately 80 feet underwater on July 23, 2018. The Coast Guard intends to tow the boat to a facility to further inspect it. The investigation could take more than a year to complete.

We are thinking about the families involved in this tragedy. The following victims have been identified:

  • Angela Coleman (age 45)
  • Arya Coleman (age 1)
  • Belinda Coleman (age 69)
  • Ervin Coleman (age 76)
  • Evan Coleman (age 7)
  • Glenn Coleman (age 40)
  • Horace Coleman (age 70)
  • Maxwell Coleman (age 2)
  • Reece Coleman (age 9)
  • William Asher (age 69)
  • Rosemarie Hamann (age 68)
  • Janice Bright (age 63)
  • William Bright (age 65)
  • Bob Williams (age 73)
  • Lesilie Dennison (age 64)
  • Lance Smith (age 15)
  • Steve Smith (age 53)

One of the survivors, Tia Coleman, lost 9 family members in the duck boat incident. They had come from Indiana on a family vacation. Ms. Coleman has reported that the Captain told the passengers where the life jackets were located but said they wouldn't need them.

With all of the remaining questions, we don't yet know what happened nor who is to blame for this tragedy, if anyone. It serves as an unfortunate reminder to not underestimate storms while out on the water and to evaluate the safety mechanisms in place in the even of a boat capsizing.

We cannot imagine what the victims' loved ones are going through at this time. We hope that they soon receive the answers they seek and the comfort they need.