The amphibious vessel that sank Thursday night at Table Rock Lake, killing 17 people aboard, was a relic of World War II — built the same year U.S. soldiers set foot on Normandy Beach.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the name of the boat that sank was Stretch Duck 07, a 33-foot-long vessel built in 1944. DUKW boats — commonly called Ducks — were built to quickly deliver cargo from ships at sea directly to the shore, driving onto the beach.
There are roughly 22 of the boats operating in the state, said Lt. Tasha Sadowicz, spokeswoman for the Coast Guard’s regional office in St. Louis. The majority of the other Stretch Ducks were also built in 1944 or 1945, according to Coast Guard records.
Although Missouri is a landlocked state and the amphibious vehicle operates on both land and water, the U.S. Coast Guard has regulatory authority over small commercial vessels like Duck boats in federal waterways, which include Table Rock Lake and the Lake of the Ozarks, Sadowicz said.
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The duck boat that sank was inspected yearly, and its last inspection was in February, showing no deficiencies at the time.
But it had a number of inspection deficiencies and other incidents in recent years. In 2016, an inspection revealed the boat’s heat (fire) detectors were inoperable, but they were later repaired.
Between January and April 2015, the Coast Guard’s Captain of the Port in St. Louis — who has jurisdiction over Table Rock — placed a restriction on the boat from sailing, although records do not detail why other than a “Hazardous/Unsafe condition.” During that time period, the boat had some sealant issues that resulted in water leaks, and some water pumps that were not working.
In 2011, the boat lost its steering for an unknown reason with 30 people on board while on the lake, but the boat was able to get back on land with no injuries or damage.
In 2005, the boat experienced steering failure with passengers aboard. And in March 1999, the boat was cited for not removing or ensuring curtain straps were unsecured when the vessel was in the water.
Part of the inspection process by the Coast Guard includes verifying that the company has provided adequate training for the crew and that they can handle certain emergency situations, like fires and “man overboard,” Sadowicz said. The Coast Guard itself runs drills with crews, and if they are inadequate, it counts as a deficiency in their inspection and they have to correct it to pass.
The boat that sank Thursday faced 3-foot waves on the lake as a result of high winds during a storm.
Coast Guard records show that another duck, Stretch Duck 05, also took a 3- or 4-foot wave in 2015 as it traversed the Delaware River on a tour in Philadelphia with 12 people aboard. The height of the wave caused water to enter the engine compartment, causing it to stall and set adrift. While the boat was able to be towed to shore, the cause of the incident was determined by investigators to be from rapidly worsening river conditions and because of the captain’s “failure to anticipate the change in the weather conditions.”
During inspections, the Coast Guard also tests the boat’s safety gear and checks that it has adequate flotation devices. Boat crews are supposed to give safety briefings to passengers at the beginning of a journey.
While Missouri state law requires recreational boaters under 7 years old to wear life jackets at all times on the water, these commercial vessels do not have that requirement, Sadowicz said.
However, they are required to have enough personal flotation devices for all passengers and crew, including appropriately-sized jackets for all children on board.
While the Coast Guard does not have specific requirements for boaters to avoid the water during certain weather conditions, including high winds, “The most important part of safe boating is pre-planning and checking the forecast,” Sadowicz said.