17 Killed After Tourist Boat Capsizes In US

Footage of the incident shows the "duck boat" battling rough conditions. The owner says it "shouldn't have been in the water".

(Reuters) - Divers on Friday pulled the last bodies from the wreckage of a “duck boat” that sank a day earlier during a storm in a lake near a popular Missouri destination, killing 17 people in one of the deadliest U.S. tourist incidents for years.

The World War Two-style amphibious vehicle was filled with 31 passengers including children when a microburst storm hit Table Rock Lake outside Branson, Missouri. A video of the incident showed the vessel battered by waves.

Duck boats have been involved in a string of deadly incidents that have killed more than three dozen people across the United States over the past two decades, by drowning and in crashes on land.

The Stone County Sheriff’s Office said divers on Friday morning recovered the last four bodies from the sunken boat, 80 feet (24 m) under water.

“It’s important that we find out for sure what events did occur,” Missouri Governor Michael Parson said at a Friday morning news conference. “Today it’s just still early.”

Authorities respond to the disaster at Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri. Photo: handout.

The incident began around 7 p.m. (0000 GMT) on Thursday after thunderstorms rolled through the area, when two duck boats were out on the lake, officials said. Both headed back to shore but only one made it.

“From what I understand there was life jackets in the duck,” Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader told the press conference. He declined to say whether passengers had been wearing them.

The National Transportation Safety Board and U.S. Coast Guard are investigating, officials said. Rader noted that the boat’s captain survived the sinking but the driver did not.

Officials did not comment on the identities or ages of the other people who drowned.

Pat Cox, the owner of a marina about a half mile from where the vessel went down, sent five boats and about 20 people to help with the rescue.

“These people showed an amazing strength maybe that we don’t always give them credit for,” Cox said by telephone. “They had it and they took action. And they were good Samaritans.”

The crew on the first boat was able to pull two people from the waves, Cox said: “It was all hands on deck, we did everything we could.”

People pray next to a car believed to belong to a victim of a the duck boat accident. Photo: AAP.

Rick Kettles, the owner of the Lakeside Resort General Store and Restaurant, said he had never before seen such conditions on Table Rock Lake.

“I am 54 and I started coming here when I was 6 or 7 years old. I have been on my lake most of my life and I have never seen it like this,” Kettles said. “I am trying to figure out why the boats were out there. I don’t get it, having a captain’s license myself.”

A microburst is a severe, localized wind gust, blasting down from a thunderstorm, typically covering an area less than 2.5 miles (4 km) in diameter and lasting less than five minutes.

The company that owned the duck boat, Ripley Entertainment, said it was working with families of the victims.

“Our number one priority is the families and our employees that were affected,” spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala-Potts said on Thursday.

Table Rock Lake is a 67-square-mile (174 sq km) reservoir on the White River.

Duck vehicles are modeled on the landing craft used in the D-Day invasion and used on sightseeing tours around the world.

Thirteen people died in 1999 when the duck boat they were riding near Hot Springs, Arkansas, sank suddenly.

Following that incident, the NTSB warned the boats’ canopy roofs presented a hazard, making it difficult for people, even those wearing a life jacket, to escape when the craft begins to sink.

“You drown if you do, you drown if you don’t,” said Robert Mongeluzzi, a Philadelphia lawyer who has represented victims of other duck boat disasters.