Seventeen people died Thursday night in a wind-driven lake tragedy that capsized and sank a tourist boat in the Missouri Ozarks.
Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said some of the dead were children but he would not be specific. Media reports said at least three of the injured were under 18 years old; their injuries were minor. At least seven people were taken to hospitals, only one with a serious injury.
All missing people appeared to have been accounted for. Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader confirmed the total number of fatalities just after 10:15 a.m. Friday.
Rader asked anyone with video of the incident to send it to authorities at the Stone County Sheriff’s Department’s Facebook page or call 417-337-8515.
“It’s going to be all night,” Rader said. “It’s going to be a challenging night and tomorrow.”
The incident happened shortly after 7 p.m. on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Mo.
There reportedly were 31 people on the “Ride the Ducks” boat, a vehicle that goes from land to water and is a popular attraction for tourists at Table Rock Lake. Some people were able to swim to shore, according to media reports.
Rader said a Stone County sheriff’s deputy was on the boat when it capsized and was helping to rescue people.
Rader said there were life vests on board the boat but he did not know if passengers were wearing them.
Rader said there were two “ducks” boats in the water when the storm struck, but one of them made it to shore safely. Rader said “Ducks” company officials were on the scene.
“They’re being very cooperative with us at this time,” he said.
According to the company’s website, “Ride the Ducks” is a “70-minute guided amphibious tour that takes guests through the scenic Ozarks on both land and water.”
Ride the Ducks Branson spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala-Potts said in an emailed statement that the company was still confirming information about “the very difficult situation.”
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic accident that occurred this evening at Ride The Ducks Branson,” Smagala-Potts said in a statement emailed at 1:17 a.m. “This incident has deeply affected all of us. 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. The safety of our guests and employees is our number one priority. We will provide updates as we have additional, confirmed information to share.”
The National Weather Service said wind gusts were as strong as 60 mph and caused 3-foot waves. Strong thunderstorms with straight-line winds moved through the Branson area a little after 7 Thursday evening, said Cory Rothstein, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Springfield.
“There were winds in excess of 60 mph at that time,” Rothstein said. “The lines of storms themselves were moving very quickly. . . . There were 3-feet waves on the lake.”
A thunderstorm warning hit the area just after 6:30. By 7:25 p.m. winds at the Branson airport were clocked at 63 miles per hour, Rothstein said.