NTSB Chairman Says Duck Boat Tours Should Be Banned

According to the former head of the National Transportation Safety Board, amphibious duck tours like the one that killed 17 people in Branson should be banned.

Jim Hall, former NTSB chairman who served under President Bill Clinton, said the drowning accident that took place on Table Rock Lake was eerily similar to a 1999 duck boat accident that resulted in the death of 13 people in Arkansas. Hall compared duck-boat tours to unregulated amusement park rides. Others have levied similar criticism, saying the amphibious vehicles don't neatly fit into the regulations for boats or buses.

Speaking to USA Today, Hall said, “My feeling after seeing this one is that the only thing to do in the name of public safety is to ban them. I think it’s the responsible thing to do to ensure (riders) are not put at risk.”

After the fatal duck boat accident in 1999, the NTSB recommended that duck-boat operators install additional flotation devices to keep the low-riding vehicles afloat even if their engines and bilge pumps stop working.

Duck boats are based on World War II military craft called DUKWs. The vessels are popular among tourists because it allows them to sightsee on both land and water. However, the vehicles were not designed for extended use, though some duck-boat operators have significantly modified them to accommodate extra passengers and extend their operating seasons.

Of the 31 people aboard the duck boat that sank in Table Rock Lake, 17 tragically died. One passenger, Tia Coleman, lost 9 members of her family in the unfortunate accident.

About 300 people attended a memorial service at Williams Memorial Chapel at College of the Ozarks, where a bell chimed 17 times to honor the victims.

Branson Mayor Karen Best said, “Our lives were changed forever. Hearts were broken. We honor the 14 survivors. And we honor the many heroes who did everything in their power to save lives.”

Divers have since a recovered a video recorder from the boat that might provide insight into the disaster. An NTSB lab in Washington will analyze the recorder, though it is still unclear if the recorder was functioning when the boat capsized or whether its data can be recovered.

For nearly 20 years, federal officials have been warning the public about the dangers amphibious tour boats pose to tourists due to their contradictory safety regulations. After analyzing the 1999 duck-boat sinking, the NTSB concluded that the Coast Guard failed to adequately oversee the private operation and that the owner failed to properly maintain a seal that allowed water to enter the vehicle.

One video of the Branson duck boat accident suggests that the vehicle’s flexible plastic windows might have been closed just before it capsized, which might have trapped passengers.

Although the Coast Guard requires life jackets on boats, it ultimately leaves it to the vessel's master to tell passengers when they should wear the jackets during hazardous situations. NTSB recommends passengers not wear life jackets on boats with canopies because if the vessels sink, the life jackets can cause passengers to float into the canopy, which prevents them from escaping.

Consult with a Drowning Accident Attorney Today

If you have lost a loved one in a drowning accident, you should immediately speak to our team of personal injury lawyers to discuss your legal options. Many drowning accidents occur because of the negligence of individuals near, on, or in a body of water. We can investigate your case and build a strong legal strategy to secure the maximum amount of compensation you are entitled to.

Call (646) 461-4009 to set up your free consultation with our New York City legal professionals.