‘They are death traps and sinking coffins’: Missouri duck boat accident among deadliest in 20 years


Crews from multiple Missouri agencies are on the scene of a mass casualty incident with a “tourist-type boat involved,” the Stone County Fire Department said in a statement.

Credit: Southern Stone County Fire Protection District

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Thursday’s sinking of a duck boat in Missouri isn’t the first time trouble with the tour vessel turned fatal. At least 39 people have died in duck boat accidents in the past 20 years.

The amphibious vehicles travel on both land and water and are popular tourist attractions in many US cities, but accidents in and out of the water have marred their popularity and forced some companies to shut down their businesses.

Jeffrey Goodman, who has represented people injured in past duck boat accidents, said the vessels should be banned.

“They are dangerous on land and on water. They are death traps and sinking coffins,” he told CNN in an email.

The National Transportation Safety Board and multiple duck boat companies, including Ride The Ducks of Seattle, declined to comment for this article. Ride The Ducks Branson is closed while officials investigate the accident on one of its boats.

Here’s a brief look at fatal accidents involving the amphibious vehicles:

Branson, Missouri, 2018

Seventeen people are confirmed dead after a duck boat carrying 31 people capsized and sank during a severe thunderstorm on Table Rock Lake.

The “Ride The Ducks” boat embarked on its trip when the weather was calm, the president of the businesses’ parent company said, and was making its way back to land when it was overcome by massive waves and strong winds that had picked up due to the weather.

The bodies of all the missing people have now been accounted for and recovered.

Boston, 2016

A 28-year-old woman died after she was struck by a duck boat while riding a motor scooter, according to WBZ.

Her death led to changes in local duck boat safety laws. Blind spot cameras and proximity sensors are now required on all duck boats, and duck boat operators have to separate the responsibilities of driver and tour guide.

Seattle, 2015

Five international college students were killed when a tour bus and a “Ride The Ducks” boat collided in Seattle. At least 44 people were injured in the accident, which took place on the Aurora Bridge. All the people who died were bus passengers, police said.

The NTSB concluded that the crash was caused by the improper manufacturing and inadequate maintenance of a boat part that stopped working, which led to a loss of control of the vehicle. The group had several recommendations, including issuing a recall for the part and for Ride The Ducks Seattle to up its inspection process.

Philadelphia, 2015

A Texas woman was struck and killed by a duck boat while crossing the street, according to WPVI. Witnesses told police the victim crossed against a red light and was looking down at a mobile device while walking and could have been distracted.

Philadelphia, 2010

Two Hungarian student tourists died when a 250-foot sludge barge towed by a tugboat overran the disabled 33-foot “Ride The Ducks” tour boat on the Delaware River, plunging the amphibious vessel and its 35 passengers and two crew members underwater. The sightseeing “duck boat” was anchored in the shipping channel after being shut down because the boat’s operator saw smoke and feared an onboard fire.

The tugboat pilot admitted that he was distracted by his cell phone and laptop for an extended period of time before the collision, that he piloted the boat from the lower wheelhouse — where he had significantly reduced visibility — and that he did not maintain a proper lookout or comply with other essential rules of seamanship, according to federal prosecutors. He was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for his role in the incident.

Hot Springs, Arkansas, 1999

Thirteen people died when a duck boat took on water and sank. Of the 21 people on board, seven passengers and the operator managed to escape, the NTSB said.

The NTSB determined that the vehicle took on water through a loose rubber boot and sank because it didn’t have reserve buoyancy, meaning there was nothing to help it float. The agency said that the boat’s canopy was a major impediment to the passengers’ survival.

Of the seven people found dead inside the vehicle, four were found trapped in the canopy.

One survivor said, “If you had the cover off, everybody would have had a chance,” the NTSB report says.

The NTSB recommended that built-in flotation or other measures be mandated for all amphibious vehicles. It also recommended that if a boat has inadequate reserve buoyancy, passengers should be required to wear life jackets and the canopy should be removed.

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