Coast Guard Raises Duck Boat That Capsized In Missouri

Jul 23, 2018
Originally published on July 23, 2018 1:28 pm

The water in Missouri's Table Rock Lake was calm on Monday as the U.S. Coast Guard lifted the amphibious tourist boat that capsized last week during a sudden squall, killing 17 people.

On Thursday, 31 people boarded the Ride the Ducks Branson boat in southwestern Missouri. It sank amid wind-driven waves and was sitting on the bottom of the lake Monday when divers attached it to a sling system rigged to a crane.

People in sunglasses, helmets and life jackets stood near the crane as, slowly, the vessel emerged. U.S. flags hung limp and dripping with water from the front of the boat. Red life jackets were piled on the roof, safety straps dangling.

The Coast Guard plans to transport the boat to a secure facility where investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board will use it to piece together what went terribly wrong that day.

The life jackets represent a key part of the investigation.

"The information that we've gotten so far is that many of the passengers were not wearing [life jackets]. But of course that's part of what we'll be looking at," NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway told NPR.

"I don't believe it was required for [passengers] to wear them," he added.

Commercial vessels like the Ride the Ducks tourist boat are exempt from a state law that requires passengers age 7 and under to wear life jackets, The Associated Press reported.

Tia Coleman, a survivor who lost nine family members, including her husband and three children, said at a weekend news conference that the captain told passengers they wouldn't need life jackets.

"He said, 'Above you are your life jackets. There's three sizes.' He says, 'I'm going to show you where they are. But you won't need them, so no need to worry.' So we didn't grab them."

She added, "I felt like if I was able to get a life jacket, I could have saved my babies."

Holloway said the duck boat had been equipped with a recording device that divers found some 80 feet below the water's surface. It has been brought to NTSB labs in Washington, D.C., for analysis.

"We think it will show what the actions were of the captain, what he tried to do to maneuver the vessel, as well as any instructions he might have given to the passengers," NTSB board member Earl Weener told ABC News.

Coast Guard Capt. Scott Stoermer said at a news conference Monday, "Everything on the bottom [of the boat] was photographed by the divers, and they conducted a survey on the bottom to assess its condition."

When asked whether the divers could have altered anything on the vessel before it was raised, Stoermer said, "I'm personally unaware if they had to move anything in order to attach the rig."

Investigators will also review video taken by passengers in a nearby vessel.

The probe could take more than year. "Typically an investigation will take 12 to 18 months. That's the ballpark," Holloway told NPR.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley told local media that a second investigation is underway to assess whether any crimes were committed. "The Missouri State Highway Patrol is conducting a broader investigation into the circumstances that led to this tragedy beforehand and whether or not this should be treated as a crime scene," Hawley said.

The Ride the Ducks Branson tour company has halted its tours, posting on its website, "We remain deeply saddened by the tragic accident." The company said it is offering to pay for families' medical and funeral expenses and will assist with travel and accommodations.

But going back home to Indianapolis is daunting for Coleman. "I don't know how I'm going to do it," she told reporters as she wept. "Since I've had a home, it's always been filled, it's always been filled with little feet and laughter."

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.