The head of the tour company involved in the deadly sinking at a Missouri lake said the duck boat “shouldn’t have been in the water” when it capsized Thursday night. ‘’
“This business has been operating for 47 years and we’ve never had an incident like this or anything close to it,” Ripley Entertainment President Jim Pattison Jr. told CBS This Morning on Friday.
“To the best our knowledge — and we don’t have a lot of information right now — but it was a fast-moving storm that came out of basically nowhere is the sort of the verbal analysis I’ve got.”
Ride the Ducks is a national duck tour operator with locations across the country. The Branson operation, which takes tourists through the Ozarks, was purchased by Ripley Entertainment last year.
Two crew members and 29 passengers were aboard the when the boat capsized on Table Rock Lake in Branson Thursday evening. Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said a total of 17 people, some of them children, were killed after the boat started taking on water.
Branson was under a severe thunderstorm warning on Thursday around 6:30 p.m. local time — a little less than an hour before authorities received their first phone call about the capsized vessel around 7:09 p.m. The brutal weather left no shortage of damage across the area, which included downed trees and structural damage, CNN reported.
The National Weather Service said the thunderstorms brought winds of 50 to 65 miles per hour, though they eventually gave way to a calm night on the lake.
“Usually the lake is very placid and it’s not a long tour. They go in and kind of around an island and back, Pattison said, noting the weather was fine when the amphibious vessel took off. “We had other boats in the water earlier and it has been a great, sort of calm experience.”
Allison Lester, who watched what happened from a nearby boat, agreed the weather had been pleasant earlier in the day.
“The wind really picked up bad, and debris was flying everywhere, and just the waves were really rough,” she told Good Morning America. “It was just suddenly out of nowhere.”
While no official cause has been revealed, footage taken from the nearby Branson Belle Showboat sees a pair of duck boats fighting to stay afloat amid rough waters and heavy winds. One of the six-wheeled vessels managed to return to shore while the other rocked dangerously back and forth.
“It’s going to take time to know the details of everything that occurred. Until that investigation is completed, I don’t think it’s my place or anyone else’s to speculate,” Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said during a Friday news briefing.
“There’s a lot of healing that has to take place. Right now that is the story.”
He ordered the flags be flown at half staff and said President Trump had been briefed on the situation.
“My deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those involved in the terrible boat accident which just took place in Missouri,” Trump tweeted. “Such a tragedy, such a great loss. May God be with you all!”
Divers returned the waters Friday and recovered the six bodies still missing, ultimately concluding their search for victims.
“It’s been a long and trying night,” Rader said of the rescue efforts.
Authorities were working to recover the re-purposed World War II craft, which is resting upright on its wheels at the bottom of the lake
Seven people were hospitalized after the tragic incident with two in critical condition. Among the survivors is the boat’s captain, Rader confirmed Friday morning. Pattison defended the crew Friday morning, explaining they had 16 years of experience with Ride the Ducks.