Company won’t operate duck boats in 2019 after sinking that killed 17

BRANSON — The Missouri duck boat service whose vessel sank in a lake last summer, killing 17 people, will not operate in 2019, the company that owns it says.

“Due to the ongoing investigations into the tragedy last summer, Branson Ride The Ducks will not operate this season,” Suzanne Smagala-Potts, spokeswoman for Ripley Entertainment, said Thursday in an emailed statement.

A Ride the Ducks Branson boat sank last July 19 on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri, as a severe thunderstorm whipped up intense winds and waves. Seventeen people, aged 1 to 76, drowned, including one crew member.

Relatives of those who died have filed wrongful-death lawsuits against the companies that operated the boat.

Settlement negotiations are ongoing, Smagala-Potts said.

In place of the duck boat attraction, Ripley intends to launch a new attraction called Branson Top Ops. It “will be a patriotic-themed experience offering an interactive outdoor maze, indoor laser tag and other adventures,” the statement reads.

Ten percent of proceeds in 2019, with a minimum of $100,000, will be donated to the local police and fire departments and emergency medical services ‘”who put their lives on the line to make the Branson community a safer place to live, work and play,” the statement reads.

The boat’s captain faces federal charges

In November, a federal grand jury indicted the boat’s captain on 17 counts related to acts of misconduct, negligent or attention to duty. The grand jury alleged that he failed to properly assess incoming weather before and as he put the vessel in the water, failed to instruct passengers to wear life jackets, and operated the boat in violation of weather conditions and its limitations.

An attorney representing the victims’ estates has said the boat’s canopy entrapped the passengers and dragged them to the bottom of the lake.

The passengers might have survived, the attorney said, if the Branson operators had not ignored a 2002 National Transportation Safety Board recommendation that all duck boat canopies should be removed.

Missouri’s attorney general is conducting a criminal probe into the tragedy. The National Transportation Safety Board also is investigating the cause of the sinking.

Duck boats are amphibious vessels that travel on both land and water, and are popular among tourists in major cities. The boats’ history dates to World War II, when such vessels were a common sight because of their versatility.

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