9 of 17 killed in Missouri duck boat accident from the same family

Image 1 of 4

Cards and flowers are seen on the vehicle of one of the victims of the Ride The Ducks Accident in Branson, Missouri. Hundreds of mourners stopped by the location to pay their respects to the victims. (Photo by Michael Thomas/Getty Images)

BRANSON, Mo. (AP/KSAZ) -- A spokeswoman for Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Friday nine of the 17 people who died in a duck boat accident in southern Missouri are from the same family.

The incident happened on Table Rock Lake, where the duck boat, packed with tourists, capsized and sank in high winds Thursday night. Authorities said Friday that divers found four more bodies, thus bringing the death toll to 17.

Thirteen bodies had been recovered by early Friday morning. The driver of the Ride the Ducks boat died, but the captain survived, according to Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader.

29 passengers and two crew members were onboard at the time. State police officials said 14 people survived, including seven who were injured when the boat went down. Reports by the Associated Press Friday say Cox Medical Center received seven patients, two of whom are in critical condition. 

According to Thomas Griffith, suffragan bishop of Zion Tabernacle Apostolic Faith Church in Indianapolis, the nine members were from Indianapolis. Griffith did not identify them. Cox Medical Center spokeswoman Brandei Clifton says "doctors are confident" about their long term prognosis.

The names of the dead were not immediately released.

NTSB investigators heading to scene

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were expected to arrive on the scene Friday. Meanwhile, the boat involved in the tragedy sank in 40 feet (12 meters) of water and then rolled on its wheels into a deeper area with 80 feet (25 meters) of water.

Authorities initially said it would be raised Friday but Pace says it will take several days to get the equipment in place. He says investigators "want to preserve evidence as best is possible."

Witnesses, survivor describe scene

Passengers on a nearby boat described the chaos as the winds picked up and the water turned rough.

"Debris was flying everywhere," Allison Lester said in an interview Friday with ABC's "Good Morning America."

Lester's boyfriend, Trent Behr, said they saw a woman in the water and helped to pull her into the boat. He said he was about to start CPR when an EMT arrived and took over.

Brayden Malaske, of Harrah, Oklahoma, boarded a replica 19th-century paddle wheeler known as the Branson Belle on the same lake just before the storm hit.

At the time, he said, the water seemed calm, and no one was worried about the weather.

"But it suddenly got very dark," he recalled.

In a short video taken by Malaske from a dock, the duck boat can be seen wallowing through the choppy, wind-whipped lake, with water only inches from its windows. Dark, rolling waves crash over its front end. The footage ends before the boat capsizes.

Later, people on Malaske's boat saw a duck boat passenger "hanging on for dear life" to the paddle wheel of the Belle, he said.

Tia Coleman told Indianapolis FOX affiliate WXIN-TV that she and a nephew were among 11 relatives on the duck boat. Coleman says she lost "all my children", but she did not say how many. She says the captain of the boat told passengers, "Don't worry about grabbing the life jackets -- you won't need them." 

Coleman says by the time it was clear life jackets were needed, "it was too late."

An email seeking comment from a spokeswoman for Ripley Entertainment, which owns the Ride the Ducks boat, was not immediately returned.

Company, President Trump react to tragedy

Suzanne Smagala with Ripley Entertainment said the company was assisting authorities. She said this was the ride's only accident in more than 40 years of operation.

On Friday, the verified Facebook page of Ride The Ducks Branson featured a black ribbon of mourning, along with a notice from the company that they will be closed for business, while they support the investigation and allow for time to grief.

Jim Pattison Jr., President of Ripley Entertainment, says the captain operating the boat had 16 years of experience, and the business monitors weather. Pattison told The Associated Press that the water was calm and flat when the amphibious vehicle arrived at the lake, but a sudden storm emerged and "turned it into turbulence."

On Friday, President Donald Trump tweeted his condolences, extending his sympathies to the families and friends of those involved.

Town In Mourning

"Branson is a city full of smiles," said the Mayor of Branson, Karen Best. "We have so much fun here. But today we are grieving and crying."

Trisha Ayers was among the mourners who stopped to pay their respects at a parked car that was covered with flowers because it was believed to belong to a dead tourist.

Ayers said she understood how the boat got caught on the lake because the weather on Thursday evening changed in 10 minutes from sunshine to gale-force winds that bent traffic signs.

"I hope it won't tarnish Branson," she said with tears in her eyes. "About 80 percent of our income comes from tourists. We love them."

Duck Boat Explained

Named for their ability to travel on land and in water, duck boats have been involved in other deadly incidents in the past. Five college students were killed in 2015 in Seattle when a duck boat collided with a bus. Thirteen people died in 1999 when a boat sank near Hot Springs, Arkansas.

"Duck boats are death traps," said Andrew Duffy, an attorney whose law firm Philadelphia law firm handled litigation related to two fatal duck boat accidents there. "They're not fit for water or land because they are half car and half boat."

Safety advocates have sought improvements and complained that too many agencies regulate the boats with varying safety requirements.

The boats were originally designed for the military, specifically to transport troops and supplies in World War II. They were later modified for use as sightseeing vehicles.

Weather at the time of the incident

A severe thunderstorm warning had been issued for Branson at 6:32 p.m. Thursday, about 40 minutes before the boat tipped over.

Investigators blamed stormy weather for the accident Thursday evening on Table Rock Lake. Winds at the time were blowing as hard as 65 mph (105 kph), according to the National Weather Service.

In the hours after the accident, the lake was calm. But another round of thunderstorms passed within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of the area Friday morning, and more storms were forecast for later in the day, some severe, weather service meteorologist Jason Schaumann warned.

Weather can change rapidly in this part of the country, moving from sunshine and calm to dangerous storms within minutes, Schaumann said.

"Tornado warnings get a lot of publicity, and severe thunderstorm warnings should be taken very seriously too, particularly if you are in a vulnerable area like a lake or campground," he said.

On Friday, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the agency has no authority to keep people or boats off of its lakes, even when bad weather approaches. Laurie Driver says storms tend to blow up quickly in the region of southwestern Missouri and northwestern Arkansas that includes Table Rock, but the agency must rely on people making their own judgments about the safety of setting out on the water.

Where is Branson?

Branson, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Kansas City, is a country-themed tourist mecca built on a reputation for patriotic and religious-themed shows in numerous theaters.

Table Rock Lake, east of Branson, was created in the late 1950s when the Corps of Army Engineers built a dam across the White River to provide hydroelectric power to the Ozarks.

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.