Severe Storm Warning Was Issued Before Branson Boat Sank, Killing 17
At least 17 are dead after a tourist "duck boat" capsized on a lake in Branson, Missouri, during a severe thunderstorm on Thursday night.
The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the area on Thursday night. A local meteorologist tweeted the storm warning was issued 28 minutes before the storm was churning in Branson/Springfield, Missouri.
Jim Pattison Jr., president of the tour boat's parent company, told CNN that the storm "came out of nowhere." Winds reportedly reached 60 mph. Pattison noted he wasn't sure when the boat pushed off from the dock, whether it was before or after the storm warning was issued.
But, Pattison says the weather was likely calm when the boat entered the water. "Partway through coming back is when ... the waves picked up and then obviously swamped the boat," he told CNN on Friday morning. He also noted the boat should not have been in the water in those conditions.
Cell phone video shows the boat rocking in the wind and rough waters and eventually sinking. It may be disturbing for some to watch.
The tour boat, an amphibious vessel that both drives on land and sails on water, was carrying 31 passengers when it sank in the storm that raged on Table Rock Lake in southern Missouri. Children were listed among the deceased victims, with the age range of those who died spanning from 1 to 70 years old. Initially, four people were still missing on Friday morning, but dive teams from several law enforcement agencies appeared to have been able to recover their bodies.
14 people survived the incident, and four adults and three children were taken to an area medical center and treated for their injuries. Two of the adults were in critical condition; the others were treated for minor injuries.
The boat company, Ride the Ducks Branson, said in a statement on its website that the company would be closed while "we support the investigation, and to allow time to grieve for the families and the community."
"Words cannot convey how profoundly our hearts are breaking," the statement says. "We will continue to do all we can to assist the families who were involved and the authorities as they continue with the search and rescue."
It is unclear whether the passengers were given life jackets in the severe weather. Duck boats have been involved in other fatal accidents — most notably in 1999 when a duck boat sank in Arkansas, killing 17 people. Experts say that it's difficult to make safety improvements to the boats because several agencies oversee their regulations.
Both the National Transportation Safety Board and the US Coast Guard will conduct investigations of the incident.
*This post has been updated to reflect the rise in death toll from 13 to 17 people.