Seventeen people were killed after an amphibious duck boat packed with tourists capsized and sank in a heavy storm near Branson, Missouri on Thursday. The boat, from a service called Ride the Ducks, was one of two vessels caught in a thunderstorm that rolled into the area about 7 p.m. local time. Videos posted online show the two boats struggling to make it to shore amid heavy winds and choppy waters.
There were 31 people–29 passengers and two crew members–aboard the boat, according to the Stone County Sheriff’s Office. At a press conference Friday morning, Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said the driver of the boat died in the accident, but the captain survived. Although authorities have not provided an exact breakdown of the victims, children are among the dead.
“It’s been a long night and a very trying night,” Rader said.
Fourteen survived, with seven taken to hospital. Those who died ranged in age from 1 to 70 years old, according to Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Jason Pace.
Jim Patterson, who owns the duck boat tours in Branson, told the media that his company is in the process of gathering more information about what led to the tragedy. Despite it being early into the investigation, authorities blame the stormy weather for the accident. Winds were reported to be as high as 63 mph, with waves up to 6 ft. high.
There were life jackets aboard the boat, but it’s unknown whether people were wearing them at the time of the accident.
A duck boat is a colloquial name for an amphibious vehicle that can operate on both land and water. The vehicles are based off a military design first used during World War II, when such boats were a common sight due to their versatility. Now they’re used mostly for tourism in the area.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson ordered all flags at government offices in the state to be flown at half-staff for a week to honor the victims of the accident. “Right now is just a time for thoughts and prayers,” Parson said. “There is a lot of healing that has to take place.”
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