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NTSB: Duck boat crash that killed Indianapolis family, 8 others, could have been prevented

(WISH) — Federal investigators on Tuesday said the 2018 duck boat sinking that killed nine members of an Indianapolis family and eight other people aboard could have been prevented.

The National Transportation Safety Board released its final report Tuesday on the July 2018 sinking of a duck boat outside Branson, Missouri.

Seventeen people in all died when the Stretch Duck 7 duck boat sank on Table Rock Lake. Tia Coleman, of Indianapolis, and her nephew survived the sinking but lost nine family members, including her husband and children.

“Tia, along with many of the other duck boat victims, have committed themselves to ensure that death trap duck boats are banned,” said Robert Mongeluzzi, who represents several Stretch Duck 7 victims and their families.

While the NTSB did not recommend duck boats be banned, it found the company operating in Branson and the Coast Guard played a big role in why the sinking happened.

In the probable cause affidavit from the official report, the NTSB found Ripley Entertainment should not have let the duck boat operate after a thunderstorm warning was issued that day. It also said the Coast Guard failed to require duck boats to have reserve buoyancy — which might have prevented the sinking — and did not do enough to address emergency escapes on duck boats with canopies.

Some other notable findings:

  • Ride the Ducks did not effectively use all available weather information to monitor the approaching severe weather and assess the risk it posed to its waterborne operations.
  • Ride the Ducks should have suspended operations for Stretch Duck 7 and other last tours of the day in anticipation of imminent severe weather.
  • Ride the Ducks should have had specific guidance about when to suspend water operations in anticipation of severe weather.
  • The captain of Stretch Duck 7 believed he could complete the water portion before the storm.
  • Had the Coast Guard implemented NTSB’s reserve buoyancy recommendation from 2002, Stretch Duck 7 likely would not have sunk.
  • Side curtains impeded egress and likely resulted in additional fatalities.
  • Wearing life jackets in this duck boat with a canopy would have created an impediment to escape, increased people being trapped and could have resulted in more fatalities.
  • Response by emergency services was timely and effective.
  • Improved weather training is needed for small passenger vessel operators.
  • Not following NTSB’s previous recommendations on canopies likely increased fatalities.

“I think that they need to know that this was a horrific tragedy and the terrible part is that is was forseeable, it was predictable, the very safety remedies that they needed were told to them in 2002,” said Mongeluzzi.

The 1999 sinking of the Miss Majestic duck boat in Arkansas killed 13. In 2002, the NTSB recommended reserve buoyancy and removal of canopies on duck boats. Those did not happen on Stretch Duck 7, and the NTSB says that could have cost lives.

“This is a horrible horrible tragedy,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt told I-Team 8. “Our hearts, our prayers, our thoughts go to those families who’ve been affected by this tragedy and our purpose for conducting this investigation is so that others dont have to go through what they have so painfully gone through.”

Mongeluzzi said their cases against Ripley’s Entertainment, who was the operator, have all settled confidentially. They maintain their case against Ride the Ducks International, which Mongeluzzi said was the manufacturer and designer of the duck boat.