At least 17 people, including children, have died after an amphibious “duck boat” capsized in stormy weather on a lake in Missouri.
Divers had been searching for four people who were missing after the sightseeing vessel sank in Table Rock Lake, police in the US state said and as Governor Mike Parson had pointed out to CNN, the chances of finding survivors were slim the morning after the incident.
Finding the missing passengers “brings some closure” to survivors and victims’ families, Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader told MSNBC, congratulating the efforts of rescue divers. Seven others were taken to hospital following the disaster near the city of Branson, Mr Rader said.
President Donald Trump tweeted his condolences to the victims’ families and wrote: ” Such a tragedy, such a great loss. May God be with you all!”
There were 31 people on board the Ride the Ducks tour boat when it sank in 40 feet (12 metres) of water during the thunderstorm shortly after 7pm local time (midnight GMT) on Thursday. The driver of the duck boat – a hybrid land-to-water vehicle, was among the victims, police said.
A second boat made it safely back to shore.
“There was some heavy wind. It was having problems through the wind,” Mr Rader said. “They were coming back towards land. There was actually two ducks. The first one made it out. The second one didn’t.”
Mr Parson indicated the weather had been calm Thursday evening and the devastating storm “came out of nowhere”. Jim Pattison Jr, president of the Ride the Duck Branson’s parent company Ripley Entertainment, said: “My understanding was that when the boat went in the water, it was calm. And partway through coming back is when … the waves picked up and then obviously swamped the boat.”
Two adults in a critical condition were among seven victims taken to the Cox Medical Centre in Branson, the hospital said.
Video footage shot by a witness from the shore and broadcast by local media showed strong waves tossing two duck boats side to side during the storm.
Steve Lindenberg, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Springfield, Missouri, said the agency had issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the Branson area on Thursday evening ahead of winds of more than 60mph.
“It’s a warning telling people to take shelter,” he said.
Mr Rader said an off-duty police officer working security for the boat company had been on the boat and helped to rescue people as it sank. Life jackets were on board, the sheriff added but it is unclear at this time if passengers were wearing them or if they would have helped given the nature of the storm.
Dive teams from several law enforcement agencies were involved in the rescue but were forced to halt the search on Thursday night. They were due to resume on Friday morning, when investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are also due to arrive.
Suzanne Smagala-Potts, a spokeswoman for Ripley Entertainment, which owns the Branson branch of the Ride the Ducks brand, said: “Our number one priority is the families and our employees that were affected by this tragic accident.
“As of this time right now we are assisting the authorities as they continue with their search and rescue operation.”
Ms Smagala said the boat’s sinking was the Branson tour’s first accident in more than 40 years of operation
She could not confirm how many crew members were aboard the boat.
The operator’s website and social media pages advertise 70-minute tours which begin at Branson and offer scenic views of the Ozarks mountains from land and water. Customers are also told they can “drive the duck a little”.
Branson, a city of around 10,000 people about 200 miles south east of Kansas City, is a popular holiday destination for families.
Amphibious vehicles, which can travel on both land and in water, are used on sightseeing tours around the world but have been involved in a number of fatal accidents over the past two decades.
Ride the Ducks International, which builds the boats used by several US tour operators, agreed in 2016 to pay a $1m (£770,000) fine after one of its vehicles collided with a coach in Seattle, killing five international students.
The company admitted to failing to comply with US vehicle manufacturing rules.
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