Former employees of Ride the Ducks say to go or not to go on water is captain's call

A duck boat sits idle in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks, an amphibious tour operator in...
A duck boat sits idle in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks, an amphibious tour operator in Branson, Mo. Friday, July 20, 2018. The amphibious vehicle is similar to one of the company's boats that capsized the day before on Table Rock Lake resulting in 17 deaths. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) (KY3)
Published: Jul. 23, 2018 at 5:44 PM CDT
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Former employees at Ride the Ducks tell KY3 News that employees frequently monitor the weather, and they can't imagine why the Ducks ever went out in the first place Thursday evening.

But they also tell us it is the captain's call, and even though the National Weather Service had sent out a severe thunderstorm warning some 30 minutes in advance, it is not against protocol for the captain to hit the water anyway.

We know there was a second captain who made that same call-- to hit the water, and now, we've learned of a third captain who was on Lake Taneycomo at the same time.

"The captains go through extensive training-- they are professionals. They are professional captains, they are certified by the Coast Guard, and it's their decision right then and there, ya know, it's a captain's decision," said Jim Wilson. He was a Duck Boat driver last summer. Wilson is grappling with the "why"... why an experienced 16 year veteran captain would take the chance.

"At 6:30p.m. I was watching the news, KY3 came on and Ron Hearst (Chief Meteorologist) said... you guys have a camera set up by the Show Boat Branson Belle and Ron Hearst came on and said I can see boats on the lake right now... if you know those people on the lake, call them up on the phone and tell them to get off of the lake," Wilson said.

"They have great big radar (on the boat) that shows them the weather is coming in... shows the wind sheer, the speed of the wind, all this stuff... I don't know why."

Wilson drove the Ducks all summer last year. He tells us in is experience, someone from the main office would call the boat and let them know weather was moving in, but ultimately, the Duck captain and Duck's driver on land can look at it themselves.

"I'm sitting at home going get off the lake!"

Two other ducks made if off, one was right by the one on Table Rock that went down, the other was not far away on Lake Taneycomo. Both those captains made the same call to go into the water... as the captain whose boat went down. And they both made it.

Inspectors say the boats-- could became a "death trap," and say with the canopy, and windows closed up, "it becomes a people trapper."

"It was raining... so the captain probably had them down so they wouldn't get wet."

The former boat captain tells us he will be surprised if the NTSB finds a problem with the pump. He says he feels like the captain probably just thought he had time to make it on and off the water before the storm moved in.