Duck boat probe: Were rules ignored?

The investigation into the sinking of a sightseeing boat that claimed 17 lives will look at whether operators violated Coast Guard rules by venturing onto a Missouri lake as thunderstorms rolled in, a Coast Guard official said Monday.

More than three days after the deadly accident, a crane attached to a barge pulled the amphibious duck boat from Table Rock Lake near Branson, where it was submerged in 80 feet of water.

Divers attached a sling to the 33-foot, 4-ton vessel, then raised and drained it, officials said. It was to be loaded onto a vehicle and turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Coast Guard Lt. Tasha Sadowicz of the agency’s St. Louis office said the boat that capsized and sank was known as “Stretch Duck 07.” Like all 22 duck boats in operation in Branson, it was required to undergo annual inspections. The most recent was in February.

But Sadowicz said the Coast Guard’s “certificate of inspection” placed limits on when the boats can enter the water based on wind speed and “sea state,” which refers to the height of waves.

Sadowicz did not have information on Stretch Duck 07’s limits but said they will be a focal point of the investigation.

Some witnesses have said the lake was calm and the storm came up suddenly Thursday evening. Sadowicz said investigators want to find out if operators were adequately monitoring the weather and should have reasonably known a storm was approaching.

Turbulent weather has caused trouble for duck boats before.

Coast Guard records show that a similar duck boat in Philadelphia took on a 3- or 4-foot wave Oct. 3, 2015, as it carried 12 passengers on a tour of the Delaware River. Water got into the engine compartment, causing the engine to stall and setting the vessel adrift.

The boat was safely towed to shore. The cause of the failure was determined to be “the rapidly worsening river conditions.” But the Coast Guard also cited a “failure to anticipate the change in the weather conditions.”

Duck boats were designed for military use in World War II. The Missouri boat that sank was built in 1944.