Investigators: Sinking of a Missouri duck that killed Indianapolis family members could have been avoided

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LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) – A sinking duck on a Missouri lake that killed 17 people two summers ago likely could have been avoided if the U.S. Coast Guard had followed recommendations made for years to improve the safety of these tourist attractions, federal security regulators said Tuesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board has released the findings of its investigation into the July 2018 tragedy, when a Ride the Ducks vehicle sank during a violent and sudden storm on Table Rock Lake, near Branson.

Investigators believe that if the Coast Guard had followed the recommendations for small passenger boats that the NTSB made after a similar boat sank in Arkansas in 1999, killing 13 people, the Missouri boat “would not have probably not sunk, ”said Brian Young of an NTSB crash. investigator.

Young also said agency staff believed Ride The Ducks should have suspended water supply operations that day due to the extreme weather forecast.

Among the files released on Tuesday was a letter the NTSB received last week from the Coast Guard, agreeing to have awnings and side curtains removed from amphibious passenger vehicles known as stretch duck boats.

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt told a press conference that although the Coast Guard’s recommendations did not have the force of a settlement, he was “very optimistic,” the agency said. committed to improving the safety of small passenger vessels. Ducks should not be allowed to operate again until the recommendations are fully implemented, he said.

The NTSB said the probable causes of the crash included a decision by Ripley Entertainment Inc., which purchased the Ride the Ducks attraction in 2017, to operate tours of the lake despite a severe thunderstorm warning. The vessel was flooded through a forward air intake hatch that was not weathertight.

He also blamed the Coast Guard’s failure to require sufficient buoyancy in amphibious vehicles, and its inability to deal with emergency exits on those vehicles with fixed canopies contributed to the sinking and loss of life. The findings echo a report released by the NTSB in November.

The April 15 letter from Coast Guard Vice Admiral Daniel Abel said the Guard agreed with an NTSB recommendation to remove awnings, side curtains and associated frame from ducks to improve the chances of flight of passengers in an emergency.

The Coast Guard has published a newsletter on maritime safety, the first step in the process.

Ripley Entertainment, owner of the boats, settled 31 lawsuits brought by survivors or relatives of those who died. The dead included nine members of the same family of Indianapolis. The other victims were from Missouri, Illinois and Arkansas.

A spokeswoman for Ripley Entertainment did not immediately return a message asking for comment.

Robert Mongeluzzi, whose cabinet represents nearly two dozen people aboard the boat, including the Coleman family of Indianapolis who lost nine members, praised the NTSB’s findings and said he supported the appeals of the victims to prevent the ducks from ever being used again.

“Ducks are death traps which, when inundated, become sinking coffins,” Mongeluzzi said. “The Coast Guard and the duck industry have the blood of these Branson victims on their hands for continuing to ignore the warnings. Hopefully this time they will listen.

Ripley suspended boat operations after the crash and it is not known whether they will ever return to the lake.

The NTSB issued three recommendations to the Coast Guard and three to Ripley Entertainment suggesting changes to improve boat buoyancy and the ability of passengers to escape, as well as better training and guidance for boat operators to respond to bad weather.

Two Missouri State Highway Patrol investigators interviewed duck captain Scott McKee the day after the crash. McKee said he launched the boat because radar showed the storm was “quite far away,” but quickly turned from calm to turbulent.

“I didn’t expect it to get this difficult,” McKee said. “I’ve never had one – I’ve never seen it get so hard.”

NTSB members were unable to interview McKee due to ongoing criminal investigations. McKee, of Verona, is charged with 17 counts of misconduct, negligence or inattention to duty. Two Ripley executives are also charged with misconduct and negligence.

Marine accident investigator Marcel Muise told board members it seemed McKee didn’t have the information he needed to make a proper decision about going to the lake. He noted that the lake was clear when McKee arrived and that the other three ducks on the water indicated that there was no reason to be concerned about the weather.

Some NTSB board members were skeptical, saying the National Weather Service released the storm report well in advance to keep the boat out of the water.


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