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National Transportation Safety Board officials show the Ride the Ducks Branson vessel during an April 28 virtual meeting.
SBJ photo by Geoff Pickle
National Transportation Safety Board officials show the Ride the Ducks Branson vessel during an April 28 virtual meeting.

Federal agency releases Ride the Ducks probable cause report

Posted online

Last edited 5:03 p.m., April 29, 2020

The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday morning held a virtual meeting to determine the probable cause of the Ride the Ducks Branson accident that killed 17 people in 2018.

Board members voted unanimously at the end of the three-hour meeting to hold Ripley Entertainment Inc., the operator of Ride the Ducks Branson, and the U.S. Coast Guard responsible for the sinking of the amphibious vehicle on July 19, 2018.

Ripley Entertainment continued operations that day of Ride the Ducks vessels, including the one that sank, despite a severe thunderstorm warning issued for Table Rock Lake by the National Weather Service, according to the probable cause statement read by NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt.

Additionally, he cited the Coast Guard for failing to implement NTSB recommendations on amphibious vehicles after a similar crash in Arkansas in 1999. Specifically, NTSB officials say the Coast Guard did not concur with recommendations to remove canopies on amphibious vehicles – such as Stretch Duck 7 that sunk in Branson – and that reserve buoyancy be added to the vehicles.

“Contributing to the loss of life was the Coast Guard’s ineffective action for emergency egress on passenger vessels with fixed canopies such as the Stretch Duck 7, which impeded passenger escape,” NTSB Managing Director Sharon Bryson said, reading from the probable cause statement.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the board also voted unanimously to make new recommendations on amphibious vehicles, including the removal of canopies and the addition of reserve buoyancy.

“The recommendations that we issued today, if adopted, will require Ride the Ducks to develop a policy and guide employees on … decisions for waterborne operations in adverse weather,” Sumwalt said.

Philadelphia-based Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky PC, which has represented nearly two dozen of the Ride the Ducks Branson victims, concurred with NTSB’s findings in a news release issued after the meeting.

“Today, the NTSB continued to sound the alarm that the Coast Guard and the duck boat industry has ignored for over 20 years. Duck boats are death traps, which when flooded become sinking coffins,” said Robert Mongeluzzi, a partner at the law firm, in the release. “The Coast Guard and duck boat industry have the blood of these Branson victims on their hands for continuing to ignore the warnings.”

Law firm officials warned more litigation would be filed if accidents involving amphibious vehicles continue.

During the meeting, NTSB officials acknowledged Ripley Entertainment has not relaunched operations of Ride the Ducks since the 2018 accident. The recommendations, officials said, are meant to serve as a guide should the company conduct future Ride the Ducks business. Officials also said the Coast Guard recently has worked with the NTSB to implement safety measures involving amphibious vehicles.

In summer 2018, inclement weather caused the Ride the Ducks vessel to capsize, resulting in the deaths of 17 of the 31 passengers on board. Ripley Entertainment has negotiated at least 30 settlements related to the accident, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

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