Branson Duck Boat Accident Stirs Memories of Lake Hamilton Tragedy

January 01 2022 12:00 am

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — For many people, the duck boat accident in Branson brings back memories of a tragedy near Hot Springs where 13 passengers — including 3 children — were killed.

On May 1, 1999, the Miss Majestic duck boat sank in Lake Hamilton.  20 passengers and the operator were on board when it happened.

According to the NTSB investigation, the boat started to go under seven minutes after entering the water.  

One passenger was able to escape before the boat submerged.  The investigation shows the rest of those onboard were trapped by the vehicle’s canopy roof. As the boat sank, six passengers and the operator were able to escape and swim to the surface.  Boaters helped rescue them.

In that case, the NTSB ruled the company that operated the boat failed to properly repair and maintain it.  They also noted there wasn’t enough reserve buoyancy in the vehicle, the canopy roof was problematic, and the Coast Guard didn’t provide proper oversite.

In the Hot Springs case, weather was not an issue.  It was 72 degrees with clear skies.

“Duck boats” are so named for their viability in the water or on land. The vessels were first used during World War II – perhaps most famously during the Allies’ D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944. Since then, they have been modified as sightseeing vehicles by tourism companies.

But popularity has waned in recent years, after a string of accidents left the industry reeling.

According to Fox News, 39 people have been killed in duck boat accidents, including the Missouri tragedy, since 1999.

In 2015, one company pulled half of its fleet out of service after five college students in Seattle were killed in a duck boat collision with a bus.

In Philadelphia, a duck boat operator suspended its tours indefinitely after three people were killed in two separate crashes.

Safety advocates have insisted for years on the adoption of new safety measures. Critics say the vehicles are dangerous because their design creates numerous blind spots for drivers, who sit 10 to 12 feet behind the bow, making it difficult to see directly below and in front of them.

Others say too many agencies regulate duck boats, including the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and cities and states with varying safety requirements.

Suzanne Smagala with Ripley Entertainment, which owns Ride the Ducks in Branson, said Thursday’s accident was the tour’s first in more than 40 years of operation.

But the fatalities are likely to renew calls for reform.

(Fox News contributed to the second portion of this report)

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