Tragedy on Table Rock Lake

By: Frank H. Bailey, Founder/Senior Partner

Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of loved ones lost during the boating accident that occurred late Thursday evening on Missouri’s Table Rock Lake.  The pain of losing a loved one is immeasurable, and we offer our sincerest condolences.

Around 6:00 PM on Thursday July 18th, 2018 passengers in Branson, Missouri boarded two duck boats to begin a tour of Table Rock Lake.  Originally designed for WWII infantrymen to traverse shallow water and dry land, duck boats are clunky, lumbering boats with wheels attached to the bottom allowing them to travel on land. 

The Thursday night weather forecast showed incoming storms and high winds for the evening, which caused passenger Tony Burkhart and his wife to get a refund from tour boat company Ride the Ducks and leave the area.  However, Ride the Ducks did not reschedule the tour due to the inclement weather.  The rest of the passengers continued out onto the lake in the two duck boats.  The tour was going well until 7:00 PM when winds reached 63 MPH on the lake creating huge waves and choppy conditions for the boxy boats.  Video from a nearby vessel, a large dinner cruise boat, shows the two duck boats struggling through the swells heading for shore.

(Source: https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/20/us/branson-duck-boat-sinking-video/index.html).  Passengers on the dinner cruise can be heard in the video expressing grave concerns about the duck boat capsizing and the children on board. 

Only one duck boat made it to shore.  The other duck boat capsized in the middle of the lake leaving thirty-one people needing rescue.  Many passengers on the tour were small children.  Preliminary reports indicate that there were life jackets on board, but it is unclear how many people were wearing them.  As of Friday morning, 17 people are dead.  Police have reported that some of the deceased are children.  Rescue divers are continuing the search for four people that remain missing.

This is not the first time duck boats have been the focal point of deadly accidents.  In 1999, 13 people died during a tour on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Arkansas because a dislodged drive-shaft seal allowed water to flood the duck boat.  In 2015, five college students were killed and 69 others were injured in Seattle when a duck boat crashed into a charter bus.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigated the crash and determined that Ride the Ducks Seattle had manufactured and repaired the duck boats using parts from WWII era military surplus vehicles.  Ride the Ducks was fined $500,000 for the incident.

During the remaining summer months, it is imperative that all boating vehicles be outfitted with enough life-jackets to account for the maximum number of passengers.  Always check weather conditions before venturing onto a lake.  Wind gusts remain unchecked in large, open water areas making it far more likely that a boat will capsize.  Always be weary of the condition of the boat you are boarding.  If it’s older or looks unsafe, consider using a different vessel.

The Bailey and Oliver Law Firm sends our deepest condolences to the families suffering during this time.