What we know about the Missouri duck boat disaster

Four days after the duck boat tragedy that claimed 17 lives -- including nine members of one family -- here are the l...

Posted: Jul 24, 2018 9:39 AM
Updated: Jul 24, 2018 9:39 AM

Four days after the duck boat tragedy that claimed 17 lives -- including nine members of one family -- here are the latest developments, what is known, and what remains unknown about the capsizing and sinking of the Ride the Ducks Branson amphibious vessel:

The sunken boat was raised Monday

The duck boat was raised to the surface of Table Rock Lake on Monday in an effort overseen by the Coast Guard. The boat was resting at the bottom of the lake, about 80 feet underwater.

The Coast Guard plans to take the boat to a facility for further inspection. The process to lift the boat and tow it to shore involved several divers, a barge crane and water pumps.

In addition to the salvage effort, investigators are looking into questions about the accident, including ones about the weather, life jackets, the boat and the actions of the crew, officials said.

Changing routes

The amphibious vessel changed the route it took on Thursday, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley said Saturday. The boat capsized as a storm and high winds lashed the lake.

Investigators want to know "when did the driver and (captain) of this vessel know about this storm forecast? When did they decide to alter the route of the boat?" he said. "Because they did alter the route of the boat. When did they decide that? Why?"

The state is looking into the incident to see whether any criminal acts were committed, Hawley said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating to determine the cause of the sinking. The NTSB investigation into the sinking could take up to a year to complete, boardmember Earl Weener said Friday.

The attorney general said investigators from the Missouri State Highway Patrol will also look at the boat's canopy and how difficult it was for the passengers and crew to get off during the chaotic event.

Early warning signs

In August 2017, mechanical inspector Steven Paul saw a glaring problem when he examined the duck boat.

"One of the most prominent things I found was the exhaust being in front of the vessel, which -- according to Department of Transportation standards -- would not pass regulation," he told CNN's "New Day" on Monday. "The exhaust has to come out past the passenger compartment."

When he saw footage of the boat sinking, Paul said "with the exhaust coming out the front and going down below the water line, the waves are obviously pushing water up in that exhaust." If water gets in the exhaust, he said, "the engine is eventually going to stop."

After telling the operator of the duck boat about his findings last year, Paul said he pretty much got a "Thank you for your report."

Paul said the regulation of duck boats need to be changed. Duck boats carry tourists on both water and land, so they're regulated by two separated agencies -- the Coast Guard for when the boat is on water, and the Department of Transportation when the vehicle is on land.

"There is a huge disconnect between the US Coast Guard and the Department of Transportation," Paul said.

Severe thunderstorms hit Branson

Branson is about 200 miles from Kansas City, and is considered a major family vacation destination.

The town was under a severe thunderstorm warning issued about half an hour before the boat capsized. There were numerous reports of damage throughout the county, including trees down and structural damage, said CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward. The highest wind gust reported in the area was 63 mph.

"I believe it was caused by weather, yes," said Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader.

Jim Pattison Jr., president of the company that owns the duck boat tours, Ripley Entertainment Inc., said the ferocious squall "came out of nowhere."

"Obviously, we shouldn't be out there in severe weather," he said.

The victims

The victims ranged in age from 1 to 76 years, authorities said.

The driver of the duck boat, Robert Williams, 73, died in the sinking, said his widow, Judy Williams.

Other victims included Steve Smith, a retired teacher from Osceola, Arkansas, and his teenage son, Lance; William and Janice Bright, a married couple from Higginsville, Missouri; William Asher and his partner, Rosemarie Hamann from Missouri; and Leslie Dennison from Illinois, according to family friends, CNN affiliates and local media reports.

One survivor lost 9 relatives

Tia Coleman and 10 of her relatives were on a family vacation from Indiana, taking a tour Thursday of Table Rock Lake near the Missouri tourist hotspot of Branson.

Her husband, her three children and five other members of her family died in the accident. Their names were: Angela, 45; Arya, 1; Belinda, 69; Ervin, 76; Evan, 7; Glenn, 40; Horace, 70; Maxwell, 2; and Reece, 9. They had been on a family vacation from Indiana.

Only she and her nephew survived when the boat sank.

Coleman said Monday night on "Anderson Cooper Full Circle" that her spouse tried to rescue their children. "Somebody told me that when they found my husband, he had all three of my babies."

"That right there will keep me fighting for my family forever," Coleman said. "To know that he did (was) exactly what he always told me when we first met: 'I will always take care of you and our children.'"

Since the disaster, a GoFundMe campaign to help Coleman has raised more than half a million dollars in just two days. As of Tuesday morning, $619,106 has been raised.

Elsewhere, Ride The Ducks Branson said it will pay all related medical bills and funeral expenses for victims. The company also said it will help with any travel or accommodation needs that will help victims' families.

No one was wearing a life jacket

The 17 people who died in the duck boat tragedy were not wearing life jackets when found, a source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN Sunday.

There were life jackets on the boat, but passengers weren't required to wear them, according to Rader, the Stone County sheriff.

Coleman, one of the 14 survivors, said passengers were told there was a storm coming before the trip. The captain mentioned the life jackets before they went on the lake but said, "you won't need them so we didn't grab them," Coleman said Saturday.

"The captain did say something about life jackets. He said, 'Above you are the life jackets, there are three sizes, but you won't need them,'" Coleman said Saturday night.

She told CNN affiliate KOLR: "When that boat is found, all those life jackets are going to be on there because nobody pulled one off."

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