In July of this summer, 17 people met their death in the cold waters of Table Rock Lake in Branson, MO, as a duck boat with 29 passengers and two crew members sank during a sudden storm. This horrible tragedy affected the lives of so many families, but one family, in particular, was hit very hard when nine family members were lost. Hindsight is always 20/20 and this catastrophe is, sadly, no exception; and it could have been avoided altogether.

Relics from the Past

Duck boats were used in WWII to move men and artillery from water to land. The large military ships had these pre-loaded amphibious vehicles ready to drive out into the water and land onshore to expedite the unloading process. Until the duck boats, or DUKW as they were known then, arrived on the scene, getting artillery off the warships took a long time.

The duck boats used in the war were very helpful—when the waters were calm. Even during the war, they had a major flaw: they were not fit for rough waters. Twelve of them were loaded with supplies and howitzers on D-Day. The waters were rough. Out of the 12, only one made it to shore. The others capsized in three-to-five foot waves almost immediately after leaving the main ship.

Over 20,000 of these amphibious vehicles were manufactured during the war. Some of these relics are being used today as tour rides. They are still unsafe in rough waters. Anything other than calm waters could cause the boats to sink.

Design Flaws in Duck Boats

Safety inspectors pointed to the engine and pump issues as fatal flaws with these boats. During a storm, the pumps were inefficient in removing water fast enough, thus the boats would sink. In the case of the Branson accident, a written report citing this problem had informed owners of this issue.

Another important flaw which also contributed to the number of deaths was the duck boat’s canopy. The canopies are attached in such a way that escape from a sinking boat is very hard. This flaw also figured into lives lost in 1999 in Arkansas. In that incident, 13 people were killed.

Human Error

Two other factors contributed to the disaster. First was the weather report. There was a chance of stormy weather. The duck boat should not have gone out with that looming possibility. They do not have the additional buoyancy required to keep them afloat in choppy water.

The other very avoidable factor was the lack of passengers wearing life jackets. According to one witness, the passengers were allegedly told they were not necessary. A survivor said she tried to reach for one as the boat was sinking but was unable to pull it from the shelf.

It is a tragedy when lives are lost under circumstances that could have been avoided. In such instances compensation for the loss, the survivor’s experience can never be enough. There is no price on human life. With that being said, there are the realities that life must go on for those left behind and securing a good personal injury attorney is critical.

Frohlich, Gordon & Beason, P.A. is a law firm specializing in personal injury law. We care about our clients and the pain they suffer. It is our job to ensure they receive just compensation. If you have a personal injury case, please contact us. We have offices in Port Charlotte, Englewood and North Port to serve the southwest Florida area.