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NTSB faults company, Coast Guard in fatal duck boat sinking in 2018

NTSB faults company, Coast Guard in fatal duck boat sinking in 2018
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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) faulted the company Ripley Entertainment and the U.S. Coast Guard for the fatal duck boat sinking in Missouri in 2018.

Federal investigators announced their findings at a publicly broadcast meeting on Tuesday, almost two years after the boat sank on Table Rock Lake, killing 17 of the 31 people aboard, a NTSB press release said

The NTSB criticized Ripley Entertainment’s "Ride the Ducks of Branson" for continuing their tours despite a severe thunderstorm warning and the Coast Guard for failing to require duck boats to adjust their design after 13 people died in an Arkansas sinking in 1999. 

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The board found the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the area “several hours” before the sinking and then declared a severe thunderstorm warning 23 minutes before Stretch Duck 7 entered the water. 

“Had Ride The Ducks employees taken more appropriate actions and made better decisions, it is likely the duck boat would not have sunk, because they would not have continued operations based on the weather forecast and prevailing conditions,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said in the release.

Investigators said the Coast Guard did not require “sufficient reserve buoyancy” in the World War II-era amphibious boats, and did not address the fixed canopies that stopped some passengers from escaping the sinking ship. 

The board did not fault the ship’s captain Kenneth McKee, although he faces federal criminal charges from the sinking, the Springfield News-Leader reported

The board issued six safety recommendations: three to Ripley Entertainment and three to the Coast Guard. It previously gave two other recommendations to the Coast Guard in November, according to the release.

Ripley Entertainment faced more than 30 legal claims after the 2018 sinking, which have been settled over the past two years. The company’s general manager and operations supervisor have also been indicted on criminal charges, according to the Springfield News-Leader. 

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The Coast Guard said in a statement that it agrees with the board that the canopy likely prevented passengers from escaping the duck boat. 

"On April, 22, 2020 the Coast Guard issued a Marine Safety Information Bulletin 15-20 recommending the removal of canopies from DUKW-type vessels due to the risk they pose," the statement said.

The Coast Guard is also conducting two investigations into the sinking through the Coast Guard Investigative Service and the Marine Board of Investigation (MBI). The statement said the Coast Guard will use the MBI and NTSB to update policy for these boats and "determine the need for any regulatory actions."

Ripley Entertainment did not immediately return requests for comment.