Every Crisis is Preceded by Warnings – The Branson Duck Boat Accident

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CNN Tweet of Duck Boat ExtractionA thunderstorm warning was issued for Branson, Missouri at 6:32 p.m. on Thursday, July 19th, 2018. Roughly 30 minutes later, a Duck Boat seating 31 people capsized in Table Rock Lake. Videos of the capsize show the boat struggling to return to shore, waves and wind battering the World War II-style DUKW vehicle.

Sixteen passengers, nine from the same family, and one crew member were confirmed dead following the accident, according to officials. It is the deadliest Duck Boat accident to date. The U.S. Coast guard extracted the boat from nearly 80 feet below the surface of Table Rock Lake on Monday, July 23.

The Response

Following the tragic accident, Ride The Ducks Branson released a statement offering their condolences to those impacted.

We remain deeply saddened by the tragic accident that occurred at Ride the Ducks Branson. Our focus from the start has been on the guests, families, and employees who were affected last Thursday.

Today, we continue to focus our efforts on the families. We are offering to pay for all related medical bills and funeral expenses, return all personal items from the rescue scene, and assist with any related travel or accommodations that will help the families in their time of need. An event like this deeply touches everyone and we are also providing grief counseling to our employees who have been affected by this tragic accident.

We are fully cooperating with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Highway Patrol and all federal and state authorities involved in the investigation. The investigation is being managed by the NTSB.

Because we are a party to the NTSB investigation, we are not allowed to comment on any aspect of it. However, our job is to cooperate and provide information to those officials and to comfort the families of those affected by this tragic event.

Thank you for your support, and we continue to ask that your thoughts and prayers be with the families during this difficult time.

No one wants to call a family and tell them their loved one is not returning home. Seventeen of those calls were made last week.

The Patchy History of Duck Boats

Duck Boats are known for their ability to drive from land and to water, transforming from a vehicle to a boat. They were utilized by the United States Military following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1942 to transport supplies and soldiers from ships to land. Now they are used as a tourist attraction across the U.S.

Duck Boats have a history of fatal accidents.

To list a few:
1999: 13 fatalities when a Duck Boat sank on Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs, Arkansas. Dislodged drive-shaft seal allowed water to flood the hull of the Miss Majesty.

2010: Barge crashed into a Duck Boat that had stalled in the Delaware River in Philadelphia. Two of 37 people drowned in the accident. Later, the tug operator pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Accident largely caused by the use of his cell phone and laptop while steering the barge.

2015: A woman was killed by a duck boat while she was crossing the street.

2015: Five college students killed and 69 injured when a duck boat collided with a bus in Seattle, WA. Ride the Ducks International of Branson (company that owned the one in Seattle) fined $500,000

2016: A duck boat driver ran over a scooter, killing a woman and injuring one other in Boston. Later that year another pedestrian was seriously injured by a duck boat at another intersection in Boston.

Missed Warnings

Every crisis is preceded by warning signs. Less than a year before the accident in Branson, MO, Steven Paul, a mechanical inspector, examined the duck boat and recognized threats immediately. He told media, “One of the most prominent things I found was the exhaust being in front of the vessel, which – according to the Department of Transportation Standards – would not pass regulation…The exhaust has to come out past the passenger compartment.”

Upon completing the inspection, Paul stated he did not receive feedback from the Duck Boat operator.

In the video of the capsizing, Paul notes the ship “was taking heavy waves to the front end. With the exhaust coming out of the front and going down below the water line, the waves are obviously pushing water up in that exhaust. If water gets up in the exhaust, the engine is eventually going to stop.”

Although the accident is under investigation and a cause for the capsize has not been released, we can identify a few decisions that may have contributed to the accident. Two simple choices the day of the capsize could have saved additional lives.

Be Aware of Weather: A severe thunderstorm watch was issued for the area at 11:20 a.m. local time. The first severe thunderstorm warning (meaning the storm was imminent) was released at 6:32 p.m. local time. Roughly thirty minutes later emergency personnel were dispatched to the scene of the sinking boat. Radars are available on every smart phone. An operator of a vehicle cannot use the excuse they were caught off guard by a storm – especially when the lives of innocent people are in their hands. In this case, cut the tour short instead of putting the lives of passengers at stake.

Require Life Jackets: A survivor of the accident noted life jackets were on the boat, however, the crew told passengers the jackets would not be needed. Life jackets are placed on ships for a reason – and that reason is not to tell passengers not to wear them in case of an emergency.

What Every Organization Can Learn from the Duck Boat Accident

Every crisis is a human crisis. The impacts of a disaster are significant whether your organization is a transportation company, an educational facility, or anywhere in between. In a crisis, people’s lives and families are changed forever. We cannot forget the human impact.

Regardless of the disaster (whether natural, cyber, violent, etc.), preparation is key to mitigating impacts. Seek advice from professionals who specialize in preparedness, planning, and crisis response. Utilize the suggestions they provide.

Predict your organization’s vulnerabilities, plan for disasters, and ensure you can perform during a crisis and save lives.

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