At least eleven people died when a Missouri boat capsized and sank on Thursday night, plunging scores of passengers into a lake near the tourist town of Branson and making desperate search efforts.
Some of those who died were children, Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader told reporters in a meeting. The authorities warned that the scale of the tragedy could continue to grow, with six people missing on Friday morning.
The boat had 31 people on board – 29 passengers and two crew members – when it sank in the waters of Table Rock Lake winds and thunderstorms, Rader said. Seven people were taken to the hospital, one of them with serious injuries.
The first emergency call on a duck boat arrived shortly after 19.00. Thursday, officials said that lure diving teams in the water to look for victims.
"That will last all night until tomorrow," Rader said. "We will still work on it."
Among the passengers of the boat was a sheriff's deputy who, according to Rader, immediately helped with the rescue operation.
The Missouri Highway Patrol Dive Team will take command Search Friday morning by a county diving team that scored the waters Thursday night, officials said. Federal investigators are also on the way. The National Transportation Safety Board said it would send a team of "Go Team" researchers to the lake on Friday morning to investigate what happened.
Rader said the boat had sunk due to the strong wind and thunderstorm. The National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm warning to the area during the time the boat sank.
"The winds were behind a so-called gust front," reported weather blogger meteorologist Mike Smith. "There were also strong winds with the heavy rain on his arrival, which would have reduced the visibility to very low levels." Gales of up to 70 or 80 mph were reported at the time of the sinking, he wrote.
The Duck Boat This was one of two that were still in operation during the storm, Rader said. When the incident happened, the boats had returned ashore, he said. Some of those on the capsized boat could swim ashore, the Kansas City Star reported.
Video captured shortly before the incident showed two duck boats pacing up and down with unruly waves, spraying water in all directions.
One of the boats stays behind the other and crashes into the waves. A speedboat can be driven behind the duck boats.
"Oh my god, oh no," says a woman in the background of the video. "Someone has to help them."
"This duck, I do not know if they will come back," it says on the video.
Another video was taken by a passenger in the other duck boat, which has safely landed. Recordings of Paul Lemus published by local news agencies show a number of adults and children in the boat. Waves banging against the windows and showboat Branson Belle is near Lake Rock State Park. According to the police, the call over the sunken duck boat was that it was near Belle.
The duck boat that had life jackets on board was owned by Ride the Ducks Branson, a tourism company that guides the people of the Ozarks through land and water with amphibious vehicles. Ride the Ducks is a national duck tour operator with multiple locations in the US and the Branson operation was bought by Ripley Entertainment last year, said Suzanne Smagala-Potts, a corporate spokeswoman for the Washington Post.
Duck boat tours, seen in cities from Washington to Seattle, have experienced fatal accidents in both water and land. In what was possibly the deadliest incident, 13 people died in 1999 after a duck boat suddenly hit the water on a tour of Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Ark.
In 2015, a Ride the Ducks boat crashed into a charter bus on the Aurora Bridge in Seattle and five college students were killed. Dozens of people were injured as well. Ride the Ducks International LLC voted $ 1 million for federal security breaches the following year, according to the Seattle Times.
Smagala-Potts, said the boat, sank Thursday night marked the first time there was an accident with the duck boats in Branson. The company has been in the city for 40 years and is "a staple of Branson," said Smagala-Potts.
"We are deeply affected by the tragic accident that occurred at Ride The Ducks Branson tonight," she said. "This incident has hit us all deeply, and we will continue to do our utmost to help the families and authorities involved in the search and rescue."
Suddenly the storm came in while Rachel Zerby camped by the lake where Close to the duck boat, she told the Washington Post.
"We have a clear line of sight to both across the water," Zerby said. "I noticed that most of the boats had left the water, but still at least two or maybe even three ducks near the Belle."
The city of Branson opens its Town Hall for survivors and relatives of the sinking ,
"It's going to be a very difficult night for us, and it's going to be a long night for many," said Melody Pettit, city communications manager, during a press conference. "It's heartbreaking."
The city set up a command post within its town hall and offered chaplains, psychologists and Red Cross services to families, Pettit said.
Originally created by the US Army for use in World War II, DUKWs (called "ducks") were amphibious trucks in the form of boats that carried ammunition, supplies and equipment from offshore vessels to troops stationed at beaches , In later years, they were rebuilt for recreation and riding in duck boats has become a popular tourist attraction.
About 20 minutes from Branson, Table Rock Lake is a popular destination for watercraft enthusiasts, according to its website. The lake covers 45,000 hectares of land and 800 miles of shoreline.
Roger Brallier, who is a duck boat captain for Ride the Ducks Branson, told the post office that all captains are "very close."
"Were it not for God's mercy, it could have been on the boat," he said. "Our whole heart is broken right now."
This story has been updated.