A former National Transportation Safety Board chairman is calling for the permanent ban of duck boats as amusement rides. Jim Hall, who served as NTSB chairman from 1993 to 2001, told KMBC-TV Sunday that because there is no effective oversight of their operations, the boats should be banned.
Hall’s comments come days after 17 people died on a duck boat in Table Rock Lake near Branson. He told the TV station that the U.S. Coast Guard or Congress should act to ban the vessels immediately.
According to a Philadelphia law firm that has represented victims in previous duck boat accidents, Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky, at least 43 people have died in duck boat mishaps in the United States since 1999.
Hall was the NTSB chairman in 1999 when the Miss Majestic duck boat sank on Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs, Arkansas. 13 of the 21 people aboard that boat died in the mishap.
In a report issued in 2002, the NTSB said the probable cause of the vehicle to uncontrollably flood and sink was the failure of the company that operated it, Land and Lakes Tours, Inc., to adequately repair and maintain it. The federal agency also noted a design flaw left the boat without adequate reserve buoyancy that would have allowed the vehicle to remain afloat in a flooded condition.
In addition, the NTSB said a lack of adequate oversight by the Coast Guard contributed to the vehicle’s unsafe condition. The agency further stated that the high loss of life on the Miss Majestic was partially the result of a continuous canopy roof that entrapped passengers within the sinking vehicle.
That last finding was echoed by a St. Louis area private vehicle inspector who says he traveled to Branson last year to look over a number of Ride the Ducks vehicles there. Steve Paul said the canopy over the passengers turned the boat into a “people trapper”.
Former NTSB chairman Hall told KMBC the Coast Guard lacks resources to provide “adequate oversight” of duck boat safety and said the industry and the state never took enough action after the NTSB’s recommendations following the Arkansas tragedy.
“As we see many times when there’s no one person responsible when there are several groups responsible, then, unfortunately, in many times, no one’s responsible,” Hall told KMBC.
Jim Pattison Jr., president of the company that owns Ride the Ducks in Branson, told CBS This Morning late last week that in hindsight, the boat “shouldn’t have been in the water.” Pattison has been president and director of Ripley Entertainment since 2007.
Ripley purchased the Branson operation in December of last year. According to Orlando Weekly, the Branson operation is one of only two vehicle-based attractions owned by Ripley, with the other being the St. Augustine Red Train Trolley on the Florida coast south of Jacksonville. The family amusement conglomerate is known for its museums and aquariums.
The Branson Ride the Ducks website currently has a gray banner running across the top with a statement saying it’s offering to pay for medical and funeral expenses as well as travel and accommodations for families impacted by the tragedy.
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) traveled to the Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) Command Center in Branson on Saturday, where he briefed reporters. Hawley said he was “strongly encouraging” the owners of “Ride the Ducks” to cooperate with the Highway Patrol’s investigation.
The Ride the Ducks website specifies that the company is fully cooperating with the NTSB, the Highway Patrol and all federal and state authorities involved in the investigation.
Duck Boats are based on World War II military landing craft known as DUKWs. The military used them to transfer soldiers and provisions for ships to the shore of battle zones and the travel across bodies of water such as lakes