Thirteen dead in Missouri after storm sinks 'duck boat'

(Reuters) - At least 13 people including children drowned after a tourist "duck boat" sank during a storm on a lake in Missouri, and authorities were set to resume a search on Friday for other missing victims, Missouri Governor Michael Parson said.

The sinking of vehicle, inspired by the amphibious landing craft used during D-Day in World War Two, marked one of the deadliest incidents at a U.S. tourist destination in recent history. Divers were still searching Table Rock Lake, a large reservoir outside the town of Branson, for missing passengers.

Video of the incident showed the hull of the vessel submerging into choppy waters.

"Just a terrible, horrific tragic accident has occurred," Parson told CNN on Friday, noting that 13 people had been confirmed dead. "The rescue's still ongoing."

Seven victims, including two who were critically injured, were being treated at the Cox Medical Center in Branson, the hospital said on Twitter.

Emergency crews responded to the incident shortly after 7 p.m. (0000 GMT) on Thursday after thunderstorms rolled through the area, the fire district said on Twitter.

"There was some heavy wind. It was having problems through the wind," Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader told reporters at a news conference late on Thursday. "They were coming back toward land. There was actually two ducks. The first one made it out. The second one didn't."

Rader told reporters at that time, when the confirmed death toll was 11 people, that five individuals remained missing. His office on Friday referred questions about the incident including the number of people unaccounted for to Ripley Entertainment Inc, which owns the duck tour business. A Ripley representative could not be reached for immediate comment on Friday.

National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Linderberg told the Springfield News-Leader newspaper that winds reaching 63 miles (101 km) per hour were recorded at the Branson airport near the time of the incident.

"We had a line of very strong thunderstorms that caused 74 mph winds here in Springfield," he told the newspaper, noting that winds were likely stronger on the lake.

Video footage shot by a witness on shore showed strong waves tossing two duck boats side to side. The video clip was posted online by KY3.

Life jackets were on board the boat, Rader said.

The National Transportation Safety Board was sending investigators to the scene on Friday, the agency said on Twitter.

"Our number one priority is the families and our employees that were affected by this tragic accident," Suzanne Smagala-Potts, a spokeswoman for Ripley Entertainment, said on Thursday.

She could not confirm how many crew members were aboard the boat.

Duck vehicles, used on sightseeing tours around the world, have been involved in a number of fatal accidents on land and in the water in the past two decades.

The company that builds ducks, Ride the Ducks International LLC, agreed in 2016 to pay a $1 million fine after one of the vehicles, which operate on land as well as water, collided with a bus in Seattle, killing five international students.

The company admitted to failing to comply with U.S. vehicle manufacturing rules.

Two tourists died in Philadelphia in 2010 when the duck boat they were riding in was struck by a tugboat in the Delaware River.

Branson, in southwestern Missouri, is a family-friendly tourist destination whose attractions include "Dolly Parton's Stampede," a horse show and a Titanic museum with a model of the sunken vessel's front half.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee, additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Gina Cherelus in New York, Writing by Scott Malone; Editing Bernadette Baum and Steve Orlofsky)

07/20/2018 9:18

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