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Branson duck boat tragedy: 17 dead, including 9 from one family

According to Sheriff Rader, the first 911 call was received at 7:09 p.m. Thursday as the boat was going under
Rescue boats searched Table Rock Lake on Friday where the Ride the Ducks boat sank Thursday.(Photo: Nathan Papes)

BRANSON, Mo. — Seventeen people, including at least one child, are dead after an amphibious duck boat capsized Thursday evening on Table Rock Lake.

Among the passengers was an 11-member family, nine of whom died, according to Gov. Mike Parson's office.

At least seven other passengers were injured, including two in serious condition. On Friday morning, the Missouri State Highway Patrol found the last four bodies that had been unaccounted for, according to Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader.

Rader reported 11 were dead just after 11 p.m. Thursday. Two more bodies were discovered later in the night before the final search on Friday. The Ride the Ducks tourist boat sank near the Showboat Branson Belle with a reported 31 people on board.

WATCH | Shocking video captures moments just before duck boat capsizes, killing 17

According to Sheriff Rader, the first 911 call was received at 7:09 p.m. Thursday as the boat was going under. He said that while that duck boat carried life vests on board, the investigation was too early to determine if any of the passengers had put them on prior to the vessel submerging.

WATCH | Law enforcement officials hold update on fatal boat accident in southeast Missouri

Divers with the Missouri State Highway Patrol located the boat Friday morning, but it will not be pulled out of the water until the afternoon. The boat company is cooperating with the investigation.

Sheriff Rader requested anyone who may have video of the accident to send it to his sheriff's office Facebook page.

CoxHealth said in a statement victims were being treated at Cox Branson.

Spokeswoman Kaitlyn McConnell said the patients were a mix of adults and children. She said the hospital routinely practices for emergency events like this and Thursday night was an all-hands-on-deck situation.

WATCH | Family honors 17 victims killed in Branson duck boat crash

Rader said a sheriff's deputy was off duty working security at the scene and helped rescue people. Recovery efforts continued after dark, with some passengers still unaccounted for. A dive team from Western Taney County was in the water and a team from the Missouri State Highway Patrol was responding, as well.

"It's going to be a challenging night," he said.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Lora Ratliff says the Coast Guard will be in charge of the Branson Duck boat investigation as the Coast Guard is in charge of all investigations on U.S. waterways.

The Coast Guard will be attempting to find out what happened and what can be learned from the incident, Ratliff said.

Rader said family members of missing passengers should go to Branson City Hall. The city also set up a hotline for family, (417) 337-8515.

Branson officials offered City Hall as a place where survivors of the duck boat capsizing could reunite with family members and people could grieve with chaplains and psychiatrists.

"This is a very tough night," said Melody Pettit, spokeswoman for the city.

The Red Cross responded to offer aid.

Asked how citizens could help, Pettit said all officials are asking for at this point is love and prayers.

President Donald Trump tweeted a message of support Friday morning.

Gov. Mike Parson is on his way to Branson from southeast Missouri.

9 a.m. A small memorial was placed outside the Ride the Ducks business.

First responders from multiple agencies responded to the incident, initially reported as a “mass casualty incident” involving a "tourist type boat" on Table Rock Lake. Divers staged near the Showboat Branson Belle, according to an early statement issued by the Southern Stone County Fire Protection District.

The statement, issued at 8:20 p.m., specified that the Branson Belle itself was not involved. Rader said weather was thought to have caused the Ride the Ducks boat to capsize. Weather reports had high wind hitting the area about 7 p.m.

WATCH | Witness video from second duck boat on Table Rock Lake

A spokesperson for the National Transportation Safety Board said a "Go Team" was expected to travel Friday morning to investigate the incident. Keith Holloway, with NTSB, said their priority is to get the boat out of the lake to investigate the human, mechanical and environmental components of the incident.

He said an investigation like this typically takes 12 to 18 months to complete. Capt. Jim Pulley, owner of Sea Tow Table Rock Lake, said the storm hit the lake with 80 mph winds that kicked up waves five feet high.

He said his Sea Tow boats were helping with crowd control near the site where the Duck boat capsized a short distance behind the Showboat Branson Belle, which was tied to its dock.

“Western Taney County has got divers in the water where the Duck boat went down,” Pulley said. “The Ducks have a ramp access where they put in, and when the wind hit it pushed the boat right square behind the Branson Belle.”

Pulley said several docks also broke loose during the wind storm, and the Water Patrol helped rescue two personal watercraft boats that capsized in the wind.

A spokeswoman for Ripley Entertainment, which owns Ride the Ducks, said the company was aware of an incident involving one of its tour boats. The schedule for Thursday showed there were tours every 30 minutes from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“We are deeply saddened by the tragic accident that occurred this evening at Ride The Ducks Branson," said Suzanne Smagala-Potts, a spokeswoman for Ride the Ducks Branson. "This incident has deeply affected all of us. We will continue to do all we can to assist the families who were involved and the authorities as they continue with the search and rescue. The safety of our guests and employees is our number one priority. We will provide updates as we have additional, confirmed information to share.”

Steve Linderberg, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said a severe line of storms blew through the Springfield area between 6:15 and 6:30 p.m. "We had a line of very strong thunderstorms that caused 74 mph winds here in Springfield," he said.

Linderberg said a top wind speed of 63 mph was measured at the Branson Airport near 7 p.m. Thursday. He said the winds were likely stronger over the lake.

"There's nothing to slow down winds in an open area," he said.

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