‘Ride The Ducks’ boats struck by huge waves on Table Rock Lake
Jennie Carr had only been on the Branson Belle Showboat a couple of minutes Thursday night when she gravitated toward the windows and the white-capped water below.
As the waves got higher and water rougher, with the clouds growing darker, she started recording the scene.
“I’m like, ‘Oooh, check the water out,’ ” Carr told The Star on Friday. “I’ve never seen a lake look like that, it was what I would think the ocean would look like, with the white caps.
“I was just videoing the water and then looked to the left and I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ ”
There in the lake, struggling to move through the waves, was a “Ride the Ducks” boat. Then another one not far away.
The two small tourist boats bobbed in the churning water, with one of them clearly having more trouble than the other.
Carr, of Joplin, kept recording, never imagining what would happen in the next 10 to 15 minutes. Or that her video would go viral, giving the country a firsthand view of the Table Rock Lake tragedy that killed 17 people, including some children, and injuring many others.
Thursday was Carr’s first time on the Branson Belle, a two-hour dinner cruise that takes passengers around the lake in nostalgic riverboat fashion. It was the 15th wedding anniversary for Carr and her husband, Jeff, and they were there to celebrate.
The couple got on the boat around 7:05 p.m. for a cruise set to begin at 8. Once she saw the duck boats in the water, her mind raced.
“I’m like, ‘Why would you even be out there,’ ” Carr said she thought at the time. “You could see the storm coming. It was clear as day.”
She and her husband had been looking at radar on their phones. Being from Joplin, and surviving the deadly EF5 tornado in May 2011, the pair pays attention to the weather. They knew there was a severe thunderstorm warning in effect, but because their cruise didn’t start until 8, they figured they would be OK.
The National Weather Service in Springfield had issued a severe thunderstorm warning at 6:32 p.m. The warning, which wasn’t set to expire until 7:30 p.m., included a possibility of extreme winds in excess of 60 mph and mentioned the Table Rock Lake area specifically.
Because the Belle was docked, its passengers paid attention to the duck boats.
“You just knew, you could see, the one boat was having trouble,” Carr said. “We were all calm, but we all kind of knew what was going to happen.
“The more everybody on my boat got on the boat, they were coming to the window and looking out,” Carr said.
Everyone was shocked that two tourist boats were out in a storm that had been predicted.
“It was sad, there was nothing none of us could do,” she said. “People were calling family members, I called my daughter.”
At one point, Carr began to pray.
Oh Lord, please help those people. Be with them. Please let them be OK.
One crew member on the Branson Belle appeared to try to ease everyone’s fears by assuring passengers: “It’s OK, those boats are made for this. They can handle it, they can handle it.”
Carr admits a day later she was struggling with how to feel. As she spoke, she was sitting in a parked pickup truck alone trying to process what she’d seen 17 hours before.
“It’s hitting me now,” she said, her voice breaking.
She said she’s been attacked on social media for her video. She said she’s been called mean names and asked why she didn’t try to help instead of recording the incident.
She reiterated that there was nothing that the people on the Branson Belle could do at the point she was videotaping. One of the crew members tried to call 911 several times and couldn’t get through initially. The Belle’s captain also was calling for help.
The hateful comments were hard to take, she said.
“You can say you would do this, and you would do that,” Carr said. “But when push comes to shove and it actually happens, you don’t know what you’re going to do. Your emotions take over.”
Carr admits she’s thankful she could no longer see the boat at one point and didn’t see the last few minutes. Her video cuts off as the duck boat begins to take on too much water.
“I think if I would have seen the boat sink that probably would have been more tragic for me,” Carr said. “I didn’t want to see all those people lose their lives. I know there were kids on that boat.”