NTSB recommended removing canopies from duck boats after Arkansas tragedy 20 years ago

Published: Jul. 20, 2018 at 5:37 PM CDT
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Duck boats are popular entertainment rides all over the world.

But with 39 people dying in accidents in them over the past 20 years, the safety of these World War II-era amphibious vehicles has been called into question many times.

That includes a 1999 tragedy in Arkansas when the "Miss Majestic" duck boat rapidly sank into Lake Hamilton, killing 13 of its 21 passengers. Seven victims were found inside the boat, and the NTSB report said "Contributing to the high loss of life was a continuous canopy roof that entrapped passengers within the sinking vehicle."

And even though all duck boats are required to have life jackets aboard, typically stowed beneath those canopies, the report said the passengers buoyancy in that 1999 accident "forced them into the overhead canopy which acted like a net to entrap them."

At the time of the Arkansas disaster, then NTSB chairman Jim Hall said, "the bottom line is, why are these boats still being used? These boats were not designed for recreational use, especially with large numbers of people and weather like this."

The NTSB report on the Arkansas case also recommended that canopies on duck boats be removed when they entered the water, but the Coast Guard did not follow that recommendation and in the caseof the Branson sinking that killed 17 passengers, the duck boat did have a canopy cover.

"The Miss Majestic event in Arkansas is one that they're probably going to be looking at to try and understand (the Branson accident)," former NTSB chair Deborah Hersman said. "Some of those issues are the same. They found that canopy on the duck boat (in the Arkansas case) made it harder for people to get out of the sinking boat. There's been a lot of criticism of the boats over the years. The design of them goes back to World War II. So I think the investigators will look at that. Any boat operating in those conditions, the margins of safety are eroded. And you don't want to be out in the water particularly with people who can't swim or children in conditions like this."

It is ironic that canopies that are there to protect passengers from harsh weather like rain or extreme heat could have played a role in taking the lives of passengers in a weather-related tragedy.