On July 19th, seventeen people died after a Missouri duck boat capsized and sunk on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri. The boat, with 31 people aboard, sank around 7pm Thursday evening after it left for a ride on the lake that was hit by a thunderstorm generating near-hurricane strength winds. Witnesses captured video of two of the Ride the Ducks vessels being tossed around by waves as they struggled to make it back to land, only one made it back safely. One video shows water from the waves entering the craft before it capsized (rolled over onto its side) and then sank below the waves. It is believed the boat sunk in 40 feet of water, rolling as it sank, before landing on its wheels in 80-feet-deep lake water.
Duck boats are amphibious vehicles equipped with wheels and propellers that can be driven on roadways or on water. With a push of a lever, the vehicle can switch from being wheel-driven to relying instead on the rear-mounted propeller. Originally built to transport troops during WWII, they are now popular in many tourist areas with large bodies of water. The 17 victims in the tragedy ranged in age from 1 to 76 years with nine victims from the same family. None of the victims were wearing life jackets when found. There were life jackets on the boat but passengers weren’t required to wear them.
The National Transportation Safety Board recorded wind readings of 73 mph which were estimated to cause waves that rose to around 4 feet, with a possibility of 6-foot crests. An investigation into the cause of the tragedy and why the Ride the Ducks boat entered the lake despite severe thunderstorm warnings for the area. Branson is about 200 miles from Kansas City, and is considered a major family vacation destination. The town was under a severe thunderstorm warning issued about half an hour before the boat capsized.
Tia Coleman and 10 of her relatives were on a family vacation from Indiana. Her husband, her three children and five other members of her family died in the accident. Their names were: Angela, 45; Arya, 1; Belinda, 69; Ervin, 76; Evan, 7; Glenn, 40; Horace, 70; Maxwell, 2; and Reece, 9. Only Tia and her 13 year old nephew Donovan survived when the boat sank. The other victims included the driver of the duck boat, Robert Williams, 73; Steve Smith, a retired teacher from Osceola, Arkansas, and his teenage son, Lance; William and Janice Bright, a married couple from Higginsville, Missouri; William Asher and his partner, Rosemarie Hamann from Missouri; and Leslie Dennison from Illinois.
Tia Coleman, one of the 14 survivors, said passengers were told there was a storm coming before the trip and that they would alter their route to tour the lake before the storm hit. During an emotional interview from her hospital bed she said that the captain mentioned the life jackets before they went on the lake but said, “you won’t need them so we didn’t grab them, nobody did.”
She described the amphibious vessel being hit by waves and taking on some water. She said that immediately after a large wave went over the vessel, they were plunged under water where she couldn’t see or hear anything but felt her head hitting the top of the craft. Passengers were unable to make an immediate escape as the craft sank because the sides of the craft are windows with a canopy top. Once the canopy top gave way, some were able to swim to the surface as the craft continued to sink in the murky later water.
Vacationers and employees of a nearby dining showboat immediately began throwing life preservers, and life rafts into the water. Others jumped in and pulled people out of the water. Several people nearby with medical training tried unsuccessfully to revive unresponsive victims. Rescuers searched late into the night for survivors before calling it off due to poor visibility. The searching resumed the next morning until the remaining victims were found.