The duck boat company who owned the craft which sank last week killing 17 people were warned about design flaws over a year before the tragic accident.
Steve Paul, owner of the Test Drive Technologies inspection service, said he issued a written report for the company in August 2017 explaining the engine and drainage pumps could fail in inclement weather.
Paul also claimed he told the company the boat’s canopy made it difficult to escape if it were to capsize.
The sinking killed 17 people, including nine members of the same family, after a sudden storm struck Table Rock Lake outside the tourist town of Branson on Thursday last week.
‘The biggest problem with a duck when it sinks is that canopy,’ Paul said. ‘That canopy becomes what I’ll call a people catcher, and people can’t get out from under that canopy.’
He also called into question why the boat was allowed to take to the water with the threat of bad weather looming.
‘If you have the information that you could have rough waters or a storm coming, why ever put a boat on that water?’ Paul said.
A witness’ video of the duck boat just before it capsized suggests that its flexible plastic windows might have been closed and could have trapped passengers as the hybrid boat-truck went down. It does not show passengers jumping clear.
On top of the design faults, those who survived the tragedy claimed they had been informed they would not require life jackets.
Speaking from her hospital bed, survivor Tia Coleman told reporters that the boat’s captain told riders they would not need life jackets. When the vessel began to take on water, Coleman said ‘it was too late.’
After a deadly sinking in Arkansas in 1999 in which 19 people died, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended doing away with the canopies and adding more floatation capacity so duck boats could remain upright and keep floating even if they took on water.
The industry took little heed, said Robert Mongeluzzi, a Philadelphia attorney who has represented victims of duck boat crashes. The canopies can protect customers from rain or sun, he noted, and closed windows allow companies to heat the cabins, extending operating hours.
The NTSB called the industry’s response to the recommendations disappointing, saying companies cited the cost of engineering and installing additional flotation capacity as prohibitive.
State and federal investigators are trying to determine what sent the vessel known as a duck boat to its demise. An initial assessment blamed thunderstorms and winds that approached hurricane strength, but it isn’t clear why the amphibious vehicle even ventured out into the water.
The risk of heavy weather was apparent hours before the boat left shore.
The National Weather Service in Springfield, about 40 miles north of Branson, issued a severe thunderstorm watch for its immediate area Thursday, saying conditions were ripe for winds of 70 mph. It followed up at 6.32pm with a severe thunderstorm warning for three counties that included Branson and the lake. The warning mentioned both locations.
A full investigation is underway, with help from the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board. Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader urge anyone with video or photos of the accident to contact authorities.