Storm sinks duck boat in Missouri, killing 13 people, including children

Posted at 8:14 AM, Jul 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-20 10:14:55-04

An amphibious tour boat carrying 31 people sank in a furious squall on a southwestern Missouri lake Thursday evening, leaving at least 13 people dead — including children — and four others missing, officials said.

The Ride the Ducks Branson duck boat capsized and sank on Table Rock Lake near Branson during a storm that "came out of nowhere," said Jim Pattison Jr., president of the business’s parent company.

Divers resumed a search for the missing Friday morning, but it "doesn’t look very good for survival," Missouri Gov. Mike Parson told CNN’s "New Day."

"Right now, it’s a recovery effort," Parson said.

Fourteen people survived, with an off-duty deputy who was working security helping to rescue people, Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said.

Several vessels were on the lake when the squall hit, video of the incident shows.

Video posted by Jennie Phillips-Hudson Carr, which she recorded from a showboat nearby, showed two duck boats rocking and tilting to the side as the lake’s ripples turned into massive waves.

Strong winds whipped waves head-on onto the boats. One of those duck boats returned to shore safely, but the other eventually sank.

"Oh my God, those poor people, oh no!" someone says in the background as the water crashes into the smaller boats.

"If there’s kids on there, those poor babies," a female voice says.

The names of those aboard weren’t immediately released. Among the survivors was the boat’s captain, who was among several taken to a hospital, said Pattison, president of Ripley Entertainment.

Rader, the sheriff, said there were life jackets on the boat, but he doesn’t know whether people were wearing them.

The Coast Guard will conduct an investigation, said Sgt. Jason Pace of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, which is assisting. A team from the National Transportation Safety Board will travel to the scene Friday morning.

Severe storm hit Branson area

Branson was under a severe thunderstorm warning issued shortly after 6:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. ET), about half an hour before the boat capsized. Pattison said he didn’t know when the boat left the dock.

There were numerous reports of damage throughout the county, including trees down and structural damage, CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said. The highest wind gust reported in the area was 63 mph.

Pattison said he believes the weather was calm when the duck boat went into the water.

"Partway through coming back is when … the waves picked up and then obviously swamped the boat," he said Friday morning.

Ripley Entertainment said it recently acquired the vessel. The boat had a captain and a driver with a commercial license, he said.

The driver was among the missing Friday morning, Pattison said.

"Obviously we shouldn’t be out there in severe weather," Pattison said. The company has been in operation for 47 years without any incident like this, he said.

Asked whether the passengers and two crew members had time to put on life jackets, Pattison said: "We don’t know that yet."

"People are supposed to be able to go out for an outing and have a good time. This should never end this way — there’s not much more you can say," he said when asked whether he had a message for relatives of those who were aboard.

Duck boats are amphibious vessels that travel on both land and water, and are popular among tourists in major cities. The boats’ history dates back to World War II, when such vessels were a common sight due to their versatility.

‘Our hearts are breaking’

Ride the Ducks Branson, in a statement released on its website, said it was deeply saddened, and that the business would be closed "while we support the investigation, and to allow time to grieve for the families and the community."

"Words cannot convey how profoundly our hearts are breaking," the statement reads. "We will continue to do all we can to assist the families who were involved and the authorities as they continue with the search and rescue."

Parson, the governor, asked for prayers for first responders and for those involved in the incident.

Branson, a popular family vacation destination, is about 200 miles southeast of Kansas City.

™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.