The tourist duck boat that capsized July 19, taking 17 passengers to their deaths in a Missouri lake, was salvaged Monday and removed to a secure location for examination by investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board.
The NTSB and Coast Guard are investigating the sinking near Branson, Mo., the tourist hub of the Ozarks region where rides on the World War II-design amphibious trucks have been an attraction for more than 40 years without an accident.
But the swamping and capsizing in winds reported to be gusting over 70 mph was the worst accident in the history of civilian use of the DUKW platform, today a mix of converted former military vehicles and modern replicas purpose-built by the Ride the Ducks licensing organization, owned by Florida-based Ripley Entertainment.
None of the victims or survivors found in Table Rock Lake were wearing life jackets, according to a statement issued Saturday by the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Investigators are examining why operators began the lake tour as the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning around 6:30 p.m.
Raising the 31’x8’ amphibious vessel was coordinated by operator Ride the Ducks Branson and overseen by the Coast Guard, in the same spot where it sank in view of onlookers on the 278’x78’ showboat Branson Belle, just hundreds of feet from a shoreline ramp that the duck boat crew was trying to reach.
Fitzco Marine Group, Shell Knob, Mo., was contracted by Ride the Ducks to complete the salvage operation, which included nine divers from the state Highway Patrol who worked over several days. Divers recovered the last four victims from the wreck Friday.
A 250-yard safety zone imposed by the Coast Guard around the Branson Belle was lifted Monday after the duck boat — known in the Ride the Ducks fleet as Stretch Duck 7 — was removed from the lake and put on a flatbed trailer for transport with a police escort.
In a statement on its website, Ride the Ducks Branson said it will pay for all medical bills and funeral expenses for families.
“We remain deeply saddened by the tragic accident that occurred at Ride the Ducks Branson. Our focus from the start has been on the guests, families, and employees who were affected last Thursday,” the company said.
“Today, we continue to focus our efforts on the families. We are offering to pay for all related medical bills and funeral expenses, return all personal items from the rescue scene, and assist with any related travel or accommodations that will help the families in their time of need. An event like this deeply touches everyone and we are also providing grief counseling to our employees who have been affected by this tragic accident.”
Capt. Scott Stoermer, commander of Coast Guard Sector Upper Mississippi River, said local assistance has helped in the early stage of the investigation.
“The outpouring of support by the city of Branson and members of this community is truly heartwarming and speaks to the character of Branson,” Stroermer said in announcing the salvage. “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.”