Grand jury charges captain with sinking Missouri duck

November 13, 2018

Duck boat NTSB
Stretch Duck 7 recovered from Table Rock Lake, Mo., is being analyzed by the National Transportation Safety Board. NTSB photo.

A federal grand jury has charged the captain of a duck that sank in Missouri last summer with misconduct, neglect and inattention to duty in the crash that killed 17 people.

Indictment accuses Kenneth Scott McKee, 51, who operated on Stretch duck 7 on Table Rock Lake on July 19, with a number of infractions including:

  • Not correctly assessing the weather and going out with lightning in the area;
  • Operate the vessel in violation of the conditions and limitations of its Coast Guard Inspection Certificate (COI);
  • Do not tell passengers to put on personal flotation devices;
  • Do not accelerate and head for the nearest shore in bad weather;
  • Do not raise the side curtains when the wind has picked up and thus create a barrier for people to escape.

The ship, operated by Riding Branson Ducks, a travel agency owned by a Florida-based company Ripley Entertainment, Inc., was carrying 29 passengers and two crew members for what was typically a 20-minute ride on the lake near Branson, Missouri, when a heavy thunderstorm swept through with winds over 70 mph.

The Coast Guard, which had previously discovered that the captain’s actions contributed to the deaths, took the unusual step of convening a maritime commission of inquiry into the accident. In recent years, only the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, the sinking of the cargo ship in 2015 El Faro in Hurricane Joaquin, and the loss in 2017 of the crabeater Destination in the Bering Sea have led to similar investigations.

Announcing the board of directors, the Coast Guard issued the Duck Inspection Certificate which limited operating conditions to winds no more than 35 mph and wave heights of 2 ′ or less.

The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the disaster and said the lake was under a severe thunderstorm warning issued about half an hour before the duck entered the water. Winds were recorded up to 73 mph at the time of the sinking, according to the NTSB.

A number of civil lawsuits have been filed in connection with the accident. Tim Garrison, US attorney for the western district of Missouri, said he has asked those courts to delay the discovery process which involves lawyers sharing documents and information until the criminal investigation is complete. The indictment of 17 counts “illustrates the urgency shown by our investigative team in its prosecution,” he said. The investigation is continuing.

McKee was scheduled to plead not guilty in a court hearing on Tuesday, his lawyer, James Hobbs, of Kansas City said. Conviction carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison without parole on each count, plus a fine of $ 250,000.

“We recognize the importance of the grand jury process and continue to cooperate with the US attorney’s office and other authorities as they determine the facts surrounding the accident,” a spokesperson for Ripley said.

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