UPDATE: Lawmaker: Changes must wait for investigation

Posted on 23 July 2018 at 1:31pm
Story image: UPDATE: Lawmaker: Changes must wait for investigation

BRANSON (AP) — A Missouri lawmaker says an investigation needs to play out before decisions are made about how to increase the safety of amphibious vehicles like duck boats after 17 people were killed when one sunk last week at Table Rock Lake near Branson.

State Rep. Jeff Justus said Monday that he'll support any needed improvements. But the Branson Republican says it's not yet clear what happened and what could be corrected.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.

Former NTSB Chairman James Hall said Saturday that the boat's design makes the World War II-era vessels prone to the kind of accidents that led to the Thursday's sinking. Hall said the amphibious vessel should be banned from such use.

The National Transportation Safety Board will take custody of the duck boat that capsized in Missouri now that it's been raised from Table Rock Lake.

U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Scott Stoermer spoke to reporters after the boat was raised Monday morning. 

Stoermer says it took until Monday to remove the boat from the lake because that's how much time was needed to amass the necessary equipment.

Stoermer says the boat was photographed underwater before being brought to the surface. He said he could not discuss specifics of the boat's condition.

Divers have recovered a digital recorder from the boat. The National Transportation Safety Board and U.S. Coast Guard are hoping the recorder will assist in their investigation into why the boat sank.

The boat sank Thursday night in churning waves near the tourist town of Branson. The victims were from Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri. The boat was submerged in 80 feet (24 meters) of water.

Nine of the people who died belonged to one Indiana family. Others killed came from Missouri, Arkansas and Illinois.

All the people who survived from the accident have been discharged from the hospital. 

Cox Health Center Branson said Sunday night in a tweet that it was "happy to announce" all seven had been discharged.

Seventeen people died when the Ride the Ducks boat went down Thursday night in Table Rock Lake on the outskirts of Branson after a thunderstorm generated near-hurricane strength winds.

Among those who were hospitalized was Tia Coleman, whose husband, three children and five other relatives died. The Indianapolis woman told reporters Saturday from the lobby of the hospital that she was alone when she came up for air. She recalled praying "let me get to my babies."

The U.S. Coast Guard says the duck boat that sank was built during World War II and had passed an inspection in February. There were 29 passengers and two crew members on board. Seven of the 14 survivors were injured.

The Kansas City Star reports that the Coast Guard said the craft was the 33-foot-long Stretch Duck 07 built in 1944.

Lt. Tasha Sadowicz is with the Coast Guard's regional office in St. Louis. She says a majority of the 22 Stretch Ducks operating in Missouri were built in 1944 or 1945.

She said the duck boat that sank was inspected annually. 

In 2016, an inspection revealed that the boat's fire detectors were inoperable, but they were later repaired. And between January and April 2015, the Coast Guard kept the boat from sailing.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol says the 31 people aboard weren't wearing life jackets.

Meteorologists say they had been tracking the storm that hit the southwest Missouri lake the boat was travelling on. 

Nearly eight hours before the boat sank on Thursday, the National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the area including the lake.

National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Wise said Saturday that the most intense part of the line of storms started forming at 5:45 p.m. Thursday south of Kansas City and extending south into Arkansas. It hit the Springfield area at 6:23 p.m., uprooting trees and downing power lines. The boat went down shortly after 7 p.m.

Meteorologist Elisa Raffa of KOLR-TV in Springfield said in a phone interview that her station was forecasting all morning the threat of severe weather, including a Facebook live event after the watch was issued.

"My hurt with this as a human and as a person and as a meteorologist is this storm was expected," Raffa said.

The National Transportation Safety Board says it might take as long as a year to finish a report on what caused the amphibious duck boat to capsize and sink in Table Rock Lake.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that in a late Friday press conference near the site of the accident, NTSB officials said they expect to be on the scene for the next week to 10 days.

The area had been under a severe thunderstorm watch for hours and a severe thunderstorm warning for more than 30 minutes before the boat sank.

The driver of the Missouri duck boat involved in the tragedy is being remembered as a longtime pastor at a Rhode Island church.

WPRI-TV reports Robert Williams was a pastor and founder of Cathedral of Life in Providence, now called King's Cathedral.

His son-in-law, Bishop Jeffery Williams, described the 73-year-old as a "prince of a man, loving, kind and generous." He said the loss to the family is "incalculable."

A statement from the church says Williams and his wife, Judith, helped found the church in 1999.

Williams helmed the boat when it capsized in Table Rock Lake after a strong storm on Thursday.

300 mourners gathered outside in a parking lot on Friday night. They sang Amazing Grace and prayed, some of them holding candles. Another 75 gathered at Brookside Church in Branson to pray.

It was announced that nine of the 17 reported dead were from the same family. Only two members of the Indianapolis family survived the accident.

A Missouri woman says nine Indiana family members killed when a duck boat sank were put on the ill-fated boat because of a ticket mix-up.

Tracy Beck, of Kansas City, says she and her family were waiting in line for another boat when the Indiana family stopped talking to have a group picture taken by the tour company.

Beck says the ticket taker realized the family should have boarded at a different location in Branson.

The family had to get new tickets and was put on the boat that eventually sank. Beck said she recognized the family when pictures began circulating Friday.

Beck says the water became choppy while they were on the lake and the captain decided to return to shore.

But she says she doesn't blame the operator of the doomed boat.

Tia Coleman told WXIN-TV in Indianapolis that she and a nephew were among 11 relatives on a duck boat Thursday night on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri. Coleman says she lost "all my children" but she did not say how many.

Coleman says the captain of the boat told passengers, "Don't worry about grabbing the life jackets — you won't need them."

She says by the time it was clear life jackets were needed, "it was too late."

Coleman is currently raising money to fund funerals for the nine family members that died in the duck boat accident: https://www.gofundme.com/branson-duck-boat-survivor

An email seeking comment from a spokeswoman for Ripley Entertainment, which owns the Ride the Ducks boat, was not immediately returned.

The driver of the boat was also one of the causalities, but authorities said the captain of the boat survived.

An investigation is still underway but the initial assessment by authorities blamed  thunderstorms and high winds.

Politicians such as Senator Claire McCaskill and Governor Mike Parson visited Branson on Friday and reacted to the news. 

[Editor's note: KOMU.com is updating this story to include all incoming information.]

[Editor's note: This story has been edited for grammatical purposes.]