A U.S. Coast Guard certificate of inspection made public yesterday confirms what many already assumed about the fatal sinking of a Duck Boat last month on Table Rock Lake near Branson — the vessel should never have left the dock that evening.
But what the document doesn't say — and what remains a critical unknown in this case — is who was responsible for allowing the Duck Boat to do just that.
According to the inspection document, which was first reported on by the Kansas City Star
, the boat was under guidelines that prohibited it from operating "when winds exceed thirty-five (35) miles per hour, and/or the waveheight exceeds two (2) feet."
At 6:55 p.m. on July 19, when the Duck Boat set out with 29 passengers, video evidence indicates the lake appeared calm at the time of initial departure. However, the National Weather Service had already issued a severe thunderstorm warning — a warning that specifically predicted winds in excess of 60 mph for the Table Rock Lake Region. During the storm, winds on the lake reached more than 70 miles per hour, and waves grew to more than three feet.
Less than twenty minutes into the trip, the first 911 call was received about the Duck Boat, which was filmed by bystanders
as it struggled through the choppy water. The boat's sinking killed seventeen people, nine from a single family.
On Wednesday, in addition to releasing the inspection document, the Coast Guard announced that it is launching a Marine Board of Investigation, the agency's highest level of investigation. That investigation is expected to not only look at whether Ripley Entertainment, the company that owns Ride the Ducks of Branson, violated Coast Guard regulations — which the inspection document seems to strongly suggest— but whether there's evidence of negligence or intentional violation of the law.
While that investigation is only starting, the tragedy has already sparked litigation, in the form of a wrongful-death lawsuit from the daughters of a couple who died on the boat, as well as a separate federal lawsuit seeking $100 million
. On Monday, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announced that he is opening his own investigation.
Still, it's already been two weeks since the Duck Boat sank in a storm that was predicted to hit hours before launch. Someone gave the go-ahead for the boat to set off into the water, or at least, failed to stop it. That's the issue at the center of the tragedy — and amid multiple official inquirers and lawsuits, there's still no answer.
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com
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