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Duck boats should be banned, says ex-chair of safety board

Families, friends hold memorial for Mo. victims

Family members of victims of the duck boat sinking on Table Rock Lake embraced at the end of Sunday's memorial service at the Williams Memorial Chapel on the campus of the College of the Ozarks near Branson, Mo.
Family members of victims of the duck boat sinking on Table Rock Lake embraced at the end of Sunday's memorial service at the Williams Memorial Chapel on the campus of the College of the Ozarks near Branson, Mo. (John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star via AP)

BRANSON, Mo. — James Hall, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, says duck boats should be banned for commercial recreational use.

The design of the boats, he said Saturday, makes them prone to the kind of accidents that led to the sinking of a duck boat Thursday on a Missouri lake near Branson, killing 17 people.

Hall said the amphibious vessels are not designed for passenger use and he doesn’t believe there is a way to make them safe, particularly in bad weather. The boats were originally amphibious military vehicles designed for assaults on beaches.

Many of the duck boats in use across the country, including in Boston, are replicas, and operators say they follow safety regulations and closely monitor the weather.

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Most oversight for the vessels is provided by the Coast Guard, but Hall said the Coast Guard isn’t staffed properly to provide the strict oversight necessary to ensure such operations are safe.

Hall was appointed chairman of the NTSB in 1993 by President Clinton and served as chairman from 1994 to 2001.

The NTSB has said its inspectors will try to learn how information about a severe thunderstorm was conveyed to the crew of the tourist boat.

Nearly eight hours before the boat sank, the National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the area, including the lake. About 30 minutes before the accident, the watch was upgraded to a thunderstorm warning.

NTSB member Earl Weener said Saturday that weather information provided to investigators showed winds were 2 miles per hour short of hurricane force at the time of the accident. He said investigators hope a video recorder recovered from the boat will show what happened.

Coast Guard Captain Scott Stoemer said the investigation will include determining whether operators followed all safety regulations. He said investigators hope to raise the sunken boat early this week.

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The Coast Guard said the 33-foot-long Stretch Duck 07, built in 1944, had passed an inspection in February.

Lieutenant Tasha Sadowicz of the Coast Guard’s regional office in St. Louis said a majority of the 22 Stretch Ducks operating in Missouri were built in 1944 or 1945.

An incident report from the Missouri State Highway Patrol said none of the 31 people on board was wearing a life jacket, and one passenger has said the crew told people not to put them on.

Survivor Tia Coleman, an Indianapolis woman who lost nine family members when the boat sank, said that before the tour started passengers were told they were going out on the water first because a storm was approaching. She said that when the boat went onto the lake there were ‘‘big, huge waves.’’

A memorial service for the victims was held Sunday at the College of the Ozarks, near Table Rock Lake, where the duck boat sank.

Two GoFundMe campaigns are underway for the Coleman family, who lost three generations of relatives in the accident. More than $400,000 had been collected for their funeral expenses by Sunday afternoon.

More than 40 people have died in incidents involving duck boats since 1999.