Sheriff: 13 people dead after duck boat capsizes on Missouri lake

Rescue crews work at the scene of a deadly boat accident at Table Rock Lake in Branson, Mo., Thursday, July 19, 2018. A sheriff in Missouri said a tourist boat has apparently capsized on the lake, leaving several people dead and several others hospitalized. (Andrew Jansen/The Springfield News-Leader via AP)

BRANSON, Mo. (AP) — At least 13 people, including children, died after a boat carrying tourists on a Missouri lake capsized and sank Thursday night, the local sheriff said.

Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said four people remain missing and seven others were hospitalized after a Ride the Ducks boat sank on Table Rock Lake in Branson.

A spokeswoman for the Cox Medical Center Branson said four adults and three children arrived at the hospital shortly after the incident. Two adults were in critical condition and the others were treated for minor injuries, Brandei Clifton said.

Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Jason Pace says those who died ranged in age from 1 to 70 years old.

Rader said the stormy weather was believed to be the cause of the capsizing. Another duck boat on the lake was able to safely make it back to shore.

Steve Lindenberg, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Springfield, Missouri, said the agency issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the Branson area Thursday evening. Lindenberg said winds reached speeds of more than 60 mph.

"It's a warning telling people to take shelter," he said.

Allison Lester, who was on a nearby boat when the storm hit, told ABC's "Good Morning America" Friday that the "waters were rough" and "debris was flying everywhere" Thursday evening when the Ride the Ducks boat sank.

Rader said an off-duty sheriff's deputy working security for the boat company helped rescue people after the accident.

Dive teams from a number of law enforcement agencies were assisting in the effort, but the sheriff said the divers ended their search for the night.

The National Transportation Safety Board said on Twitter that investigators will arrive on the scene Friday morning.

Suzanne Smagala with Ripley Entertainment, which owns Ride the Ducks in Branson, said the company was assisting authorities with the rescue effort. Smagala added this was the Branson tour's first accident in more than 40 years of operation.

Branson is about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Kansas City and is a popular vacation spot for families and other tourists looking for entertainment ranging from theme parks to live music.

Duck boats, known for their ability to travel on land and in water, have been involved in other deadly incidents in the past. They include one in 2015 in Seattle in which five college students were killed when a Ride the Ducks Seattle boat collided with a tour bus on the Aurora Bridge, and one in 1999 that left 13 people dead after the boat sank near Hot Springs, Arkansas.

In a statement released to KOMO News on Thursday night, Mark Firmani, a spokesman for Ride the Ducks Seattle, said they are not affiliated with Ride the Ducks Branson, and that both are independently owned and operated.

"Our condolences go out to those affected by what appears to be a weather-related accident in Branson Missouri.

"At Ride the Ducks Seattle, we follow a strict protocol that determines whether our Coast Guard-inspected Ducks can go on the water. This protocol factors in wind speed, wave height, and the potential for inclement weather. Our internal protocols are more stringent than those prescribed by the United States Coast Guard.

"In instances in which we determine that the weather could be an issue for the comfort or safety of our guests, we either eliminate the water portion of our tour, or change the route to the less wind-exposed Salmon Bay. If weather changes suddenly, our Coast Guard-licensed captains have the full authority to modify or cancel trips at any point during the tour."

Safety advocates have sought improvements to the boats since the Arkansas incident. Critics argued that part of the problem is numerous agencies regulate the boats with varying safety requirements.

Duck boats were originally used by the U.S. military in World War II to transport troops and supplies, and later were modified for use as sightseeing vehicles.

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