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Coast Guard Opens Duck Boat Sinking Investigation

The Coast Guard oversees the removal of Stretch Duck 7 from Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri, July 23, 2018. US Coast Guard Photo

The U.S. Coast Guard has convened a formal Marine Board of Investigation into the deadly July 19 sinking of an amphibious duck boat tour vessel on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Mo.

Seventeen passengers drowned when Stretch Duck 7 sank in about 80 feet of water during a severe thunderstorm. Days later, when a Coast Guard salvage team raised the wreck, several orange life preservers were still attached to Stretch Duck 7’s canopy.

The marine board, consisting of five members, will investigate the sinking, looking at several issues including the duck boat operator’s compliance with regulations, crew member duties and qualifications, weather conditions and Coast Guard oversight. The board will determine which factors contributed to the accident, according to a Coast Guard statement.

“Our hearts go out to the victims as well as the families and friends that have been impacted by this terrible tragedy that occurred in Branson,” said Capt. Wayne Arguin, chairman of the Marine Board of Investigation, in a statement. “The Coast Guard will conduct a thorough and detailed investigation to identify all potential causal factors associated with this tragedy.”

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board is leading a parallel marine casualty investigation into the incident, but with Coast Guard investigators joining as equal partners to the team, according to the Coast Guard.

Stretch Duck 7’s inspection certificate, released by the Coast Guard, states the duck boat — or DUKW from the original General Motors designation — was originally built in 1944, was not supposed to operate when wind speeds exceeded 35 mph, and/or wave height exceeds two feet.

Media reports immediately after the incident focused on how quickly the weather conditions changed at Table Rock Lake, as a band of severe thunderstorms rolled through the region.

The National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the region at 11:20 a.m., meaning conditions existed for severe thunderstorms to form. Later at 6:32 p.m., a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for the Table Rock Lake area, according to weather.com.

The captain of Stretch Duck 7 reportedly made a reference to looking at the weather radar at 6:29 p.m. as the passengers were loading aboard. At 6:33 p.m. the driver stated the passenger count and then Stretch Duck 7 departed the terminal facility, according to a transcript of the vehicle’s digital video data recorder, released by the NTSB. The vehicle entered the water at about 6:50 p.m.

Families of those who drowned have filed lawsuits against the operator Ride the Ducks Branson.