NTSB: Coast Guard ignored duck boat safety proposals

FILE - In this July 23, 2018 file photo, the duck boat that sank in Table Rock Lake in...
FILE - In this July 23, 2018 file photo, the duck boat that sank in Table Rock Lake in Branson, Mo. Ripley Entertainment, the company that owns the Ride the Ducks operation in Branson asked a judge Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, to dismiss some of the lawsuits filed after one of its boats sank in a Missouri lake in July, killing 17 people. Survivors and relatives of those who died on the boat have filed several lawsuits against Ripley Entertainment and five other businesses. (Nathan Papes/The Springfield News-Leader via AP, File) (KY3)
Published: Nov. 13, 2019 at 3:02 PM CST
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Harsh reaction from the attorney of many victims of the Table Rock Lake duck boat sinking after a new federal report about the tragedy is released Wednesday.

Robert Mongeluzzi said, "They were caged like animals, like putting animals into a cage and putting the cage into the water and drowning them with no way out. It is outrageous,".

Thirty-one people expected a calm tour of Table Rock Lake aboard a "Ride The Ducks" boat, a popular attraction in Branson, during the early evening hours of July 19, 2018.

However, severe weather hit the area creating high winds causing waves to churn and take over the boat.

"It was a very frustrating and emotional day for Tia Coleman," said Mongeluzzi. "Her family would be alive if the duck boat industry had done their job and if the Coast Guard had done their job. Both of them have the blood of 17 victims here and two in Philadelphia on their hands."

For this case is personal.

He stated that he too, took his family on an amphibious vehicle ride decades ago.

"They never warned us these people have been killed, there's a deadly risk with this. I say to myself, that could have been my kids," he said.

The recent "Safety Recommendation Report" issued by the National Transportation Safety Board isn't much different from a report issued in 1999, after an accident, involving a similar amphibious vehicle, on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Arkansas, killed 13 people.

Mongeluzzi said, "This is something that the industry has known about. This is something that the Coast Guard has known about. None of them did anything to protect her (Coleman's) family."

Both now and then, the NTSB's report called for the Coast Guard to require these boats to be better able to stay afloat when flooded. It also recommended removal of the canopies and side curtains that make it hard for passengers to escape the vessel during an emergency.

This new report says deaths likely would have been avoided if the Coast Guard had followed its recommendation.

"Any duck boat captain or crew member who sees this, you are on notice that these are death traps. Mere negligence is enough to convict. You do not need criminal tent like virtually any other crime," said Mongeluzzi when asked about the pending criminal cases filed against the Ride The Duck's captain, general manager and operations supervisor.

Mongeluzzi stated that he and Coleman plan to meet with Coast Guard officials in the near future to lobby for stricter laws and regulations.

You don't promote tourism by slaughtering tourists. We're will continue to work on this until duck boats are off the water and until this deadly hazard is eliminated," he said.

Many lawsuits against Ripley's Entertainment have been settled.

The cases against the Ride the Ducks Company and Hershend Family are still pending as are the felony criminal cases against The Ride the Ducks general manager, operations supervisor and boat's captain.


ST. LOUIS (AP) - The National Transportation Safety Board says the Coast Guard has repeatedly ignored safety recommendations that could have made tourist duck boats safer and potentially prevented a Missouri accident that killed 17 people.


for the full NTSB report.

The National Transportation Safety Board released a “Safety Recommendation Report” on the July 2018 accident, when a Ride the Ducks of Branson boat known as Stretch Duck 7 sank during a severe storm. The boat’s captain and two company executives were indicted, and 30 lawsuits filed on behalf of victims’ families have been settled.

Former World War II amphibious vehicles known as duck boats operate around the country as tour boats. Many, like the one in Branson, begin with land tours before the vehicles goes onto water.

The NTSB says that since an Arkansas duck boat accident killed 13 people in 1999, it has repeatedly urged the Coast Guard to require the vehicles to be better able to remain afloat when flooded, and to remove impediments to escape such as canopies.

“Lives could have been saved, and the Stretch Duck 7 accident could have been prevented had previously issued safety recommendations been implemented,” NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said in a statement.

“It is imperative that the United States Coast Guard adopt these life-saving recommendations now,” Sumwalt said.

Coast Guard Lt. Amy Midget said the Coast Guard issued guidance in 2000, after an NTSB recommendation, urging its inspectors and vessel owners to evaluate canopy design and installation and to “evaluate the design and installation of seats, deck rails, windshields, and windows as a system to ensure the overall arrangement did not restrict the ability of passengers to escape.”

In addition, the guidance “emphasized the importance of carefully evaluating proposed routes and anticipated environmental conditions and imposing appropriate safety measures and operational restrictions,” Midgett said.

A new review of amphibious vessel canopies is planned based on “the NTSB's reissuance” of recommendations, Midgett said.

The NTSB said duck boats’ low freeboard and open interior make them “vulnerable to rapid swamping and sinking” when they are suddenly flooded. In the Branson accident, a sudden storm caused massive waves that poured over the boat, sinking it within minutes.

The safety report also found that a fixed canopy and closed side curtain impeded passenger escape and likely caused more deaths. Fourteen of Stretch Duck 7’s 31 passengers survived.

“These safety issues were identified almost 20 years prior to the sinking of the Stretch Duck 7 and remain relevant to this accident,” the report said.

In May 1999, the Miss Majestic sank in Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs, Arkansas. Three children were among the 13 victims.

A February 2000 letter from the NTSB urged the Coast Guard to take immediate action. The NTSB said the Coast Guard responded in 2002 with a letter stating that “sufficient requirements and guidance are in place to provide to amphibious passenger vessels a level of safety equivalent to other passenger vessels of similar size and capacity.”

The NTSB said it also recommended the changes to 30 duck boat operators years ago, but just one made the recommended improvements.

The Missouri boat entered the lake as part of a land-and-water tour despite severe weather warnings. The dead included five children.

Tia Coleman of Indianapolis survived the accident but lost her husband and three young children — four of the nine victims from one extended family.

“The duck boat and Coast Guard’s failure to act on the NTSB’s recommendations to remove death trap canopies and improve the buoyancy of these boats killed my family,” Coleman said in a statement through her attorney.

Ripley Entertainment, owner of the Branson boats, has settled 30 of 31 lawsuits filed on behalf of victims of the accident, Ripley spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala-Potts said.

Meanwhile, a federal grand jury has indicted the boat’s captain, Kenneth Scott McKee, along with Ride the Ducks Branson General Manager Curtis Lanham and the company’s operations supervisor, Charles Baltzell.

McKee faces several charges accusing him of failing to properly assess the weather and failing to tell passengers to don flotation devices as conditions worsened.

Lanham and Baltzell are charged with misconduct and neglect. Indictments alleged that Baltzell got onto the duck boat before it departed and directed McKee to conduct the water portion of the excursion before the land tour because of the approaching storm. At no point after that did Baltzell or Lanham communicate with McKee about the growing intensity of the storm, including that wind gusts of 70 mph were predicted, the indictment said.

The indictment accused Lanham of helping to create "a work atmosphere on Stretch Duck 7 and other duck boats where the concern for profit overshadowed the concern for safety."