‘Ride The Ducks’ boats struck by huge waves on Table Rock Lake
Moment-by-moment video that recorded the activities on board the duck boat that killed 17 people July 19 clearly shows the vessel entering Missouri’s Table Rock Lake when the water was calm, federal officials said.
A timeline of the video, released Friday by the National Transportation Safety Board, also suggests that the Ride The Ducks boat entered the water 20 minutes after the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the area at 6:32 p.m.
The video is not complete, shutting down before the vessel, known as Stretch Duck 07, sank in 80 feet of water near Branson. It also indicates a sudden flurry of activity as the storm swelled to create winds as high as 72 miles per hour and 4-foot waves.
In a matter of seven minutes, the captain would go from letting children sit in the driver’s chair to steering a boat through white caps crashing across the bow. He would make at least two radio calls. The alarm for the bilge pump would sound twice, meaning water was being pumped from the vessel.
The video was taken from a memory card and removable hard drive that divers retrieved last Saturday from the boat’s onboard video recorder. The video was transferred to a NTSB laboratory in Washington, D.C. On Monday, the vessel was raised from Table Rock Lake.
The NTSB is not releasing the video or audio for now. “It’s still an ongoing investigation at this time,” said spokesman Terry Williams.
The written timeline the NTSB compiled is matter-of-fact, with little explanation.
“The information we’ve gathered thus far … we’ve not done any analysis at this point,” Williams said. The NTSB is “not at the stage where analysis is being done. … There will be future updates.”
National Weather Service officials have maintained that they had provided plenty of warning about the impending storm.
“Within that thunderstorm warning was the possibility of winds in excess of 60 mph,” Kelsey Angle, a meteorologist with the Weather Service, told The Star the day after the incident. “Table Rock Lake was specifically mentioned.
“From what I’m hearing there was about a 30-minute lead time before it impacted the affected area at Table Rock Lake.”
Survivors of the tragedy have said that Ride The Ducks was aware of the forecast because it shifted the itinerary of the 70-minute tour, choosing to hit the water first in an attempt to beat the storm.
Robert Mongeluzzi, an attorney who sued Ride The Ducks after two passengers were killed in a 2010 incident on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, was able to view company policies during the litigation.
“Company policy would be to forego water entry if severe weather is approaching the area,” Mongeluzzi said.
In Branson, Ripley Entertainment purchased Ride The Ducks in 2017, so it’s not clear whether the new owner adopted the same or similar policies.
“If Ripley adopted the safety policies, it would be a direct violation of their own company policy,” Mongeluzzi said.
The NTSB released this timeline:
6:27 p.m. The captain and driver boarded the previously empty vehicle. The driver sat in the driver’s seat and the captain sat in the side-facing seat to the right of the driver. (The captain operates the duck on water and the driver operates duck on the road.)
6:28 p.m. The crew was told to take the water portion of the tour first by an individual who briefly stepped onto the rear of the vehicle.
6:29 p.m. As the passengers were loading, the captain made a verbal reference to looking at the weather radar prior to the trip.
6:33 pm. The driver stated a passenger count of 29 and shortly after, the vehicle departed the terminal facility. The captain narrated the tour while the vehicle was in motion.
6:50 p.m. In the vicinity of the boat ramp, the captain began a safety briefing regarding the water portion of the tour. The briefing included the location of emergency exits as well as the location of the life jackets. The captain then demonstrated the use of a life jacket and pointed out the location of the life rings. The captain moved into the driver’s seat and the driver moved into the seat directly behind.
6:55 p.m. The captain announced to the passengers that they would be entering the water. The boat entered the water. The water appeared calm at this time.
Between 6:56 and 7 p.m. The captain allowed four different children to sit in the driver’s seat, while he observed and assisted.
7 p.m. and 25 seconds. Whitecaps rapidly appeared on the water and winds increased.
7 p.m. and 42 seconds. The captain returned to the driver’s seat. The driver lowered both the port and starboard clear plastic side curtains.
7:01 p.m. The captain made a comment about the storm.
7:03 p.m. and 15 seconds. The captain made a hand-held radio call, the content of which is currently unintelligible.
7:04 p.m. and 15 seconds. An electronic tone associated with the bilge alarm activated.
7:05 p.m. and 21 seconds. The captain reached downward with his right hand and the bilge alarm ceases.
7:05 p.m. and 40 seconds. The captain made a hand-held radio call, the content of which is currently unintelligible.
In the final minutes of the recording: Water occasionally splashes inside the vehicle’s passenger compartment. (The low frame rate and relatively low resolution make it very difficult to be more precise in the preliminary review.)
7:07 p.m. and 26 seconds. An electronic tone associated with the bilge alarm activated.
7:08 p.m. and 27 seconds. The inward facing recording ended, while the vehicle was still on the surface of the water.
At 7:09 p.m. the first calls were made to 911, according to audio from the Stone County Public Safety Dispatcher.