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.
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“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.
The West Taney County water rescue team was still working Thursday night. The Missouri Highway Patrol water rescue service was on the way, Rader said.
Storms in the area had emergency crews scrambling to respond to calls about transformer fires, downed and arcing power lines and toppled trees. At 7:04 p.m., a call went out from Taney County Public Safety dispatch about strong winds and a report of rotating clouds, according to audio captured on Broadcastify.com
Then, at 7:16 p.m.: “We need a water rescue. Will be north of the Showboat. Will be a duck that has capsized. We have approximately 30 individuals in the water.”
A few minutes later, someone said: “It’s pretty intense here. I’ve got probably 55 mph winds here at the shop and very heavy rain.”
A Missouri Highway Patrol dispatcher put out the call about the boat capsizing at 7:17 p.m.
“We think you’re gonna get a call. There’s a mass casualty going on by the Branson Belle, multiple people in the water. We’re going to be heading that way.”
At 7:27 p.m., on the Taney County Public Safety channel: “Several people have been picked up already. We don’t know how many yet.” And a minute later, “We have injuries, a possible CPR in progress. There’s a couple of pontoons to get people out of the water…”
At 7:29 p.m.: “Some people are already on land. They are doing CPR. We definitely need an ambulance there.”
Bystanders were already gathering, and dispatchers told workers to push them back and away from the scene.
At 7:39 p.m., the Highway Patrol said: “The total count on that was supposed to be 31. That includes the driver and the captain. Thirty-one total.”
Five minutes later: “We have a diver in the water, too, so I don’t want to get too many boats crowded around him.”
Then from Taney County at 7:44 p.m.: “We have at least six fatalities we’re trying to deal with and we’re trying to dive for some more missing people…and we’re treating some, obviously the injured ones.”
At 8:14 p.m., someone on the Taney County Public Safety channel asked a dispatcher to notify the Coast Guard: “Not the Coast Guard Auxiliary, but the true Coast Guard, of this incident involving a commercial vessel on Table Rock, just so they’re notified. We really don’t need anything from them. We just need to make sure they’re notified.”
“Ride the Ducks” is a tourist attraction in Branson in Taney County, but the incident happened on the lake in Stone County.
The City of Branson Government posted a notice on Facebook Thursday evening.
“While the incident did not occur in Branson, we are hoping and praying for all involved,” the post said. “As this is a developing situation, all questions should be directed to the Missouri Highway Patrol or the Stone County Sheriff’s Department.”
The department tweeted shortly before 8:30 p.m. that “crews from multiple agencies are on scene of an MCI ‘Mass Casualty Incident’ ‘tourist type boat involved’ this is on Table Rock Lake, Stone County, Branson Missouri. Taney County assisting. Several patients transported ...”
“We can confirm there are fatalities,” said Eric Nielsen, a spokesman with the Southern Stone County Fire Protection District.
Nielsen said the coroner’s office is on scene.
Mass casualty incidents typically denote at least 10 people killed or injured and as many as 20, Nielsen said.
The Branson Belle tourist attraction reportedly helped in the immediate rescue operation.
Emergency crews were staging at the Branson Belle Dock but the tourist attraction is not involved in the incident, Nielsen said.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.