BRANSON, Mo. — Authorities say the final four people missing since a boat sank on a lake in southern Missouri have been found, raising the total number of people who died to 17. The victims range in age from one to 70 years old.
The office manager at the Stone County Sheriff’s office, Wendy Doucey, confirmed the discovery Friday. The Ride the Ducks boat sank Thursday night in Table Rock Lake near Branson.
The victims’ names haven’t been released. People were already placing flowers on their vehicles that sat in the duck boat parking lot.
Ozark First reports that there will be a candlelight vigil Friday at 9 p.m. at Brookside Church, 2193 State Highway F in Branson for the victims. The public is invited to attend.
CNN reporter Dianne Gallagher said family told CNN that the driver of the duck boat who died was Robert “Captain Bob” Williams. He drove the boat when it operated on land.
His wife, Judy, told CNN, “My husband was a man of God. He’d talk to anybody. He made an effect on many lives. He would give up his life for somebody”
Crews say they won’t recover the boat until Monday.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Jason Pace said 14 people survived, including seven who were injured.
Patrol divers found six more bodies early Friday.
Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said Thursday that stormy weather likely made the boat sank. Another duck boat on the lake made it safely back to shore.
Passengers on a nearby boat told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the water became rough as the wind picked up.
“Debris was flying everywhere,” Allison Lester said in an interview Friday.
Lester’s boyfriend, Trent Behr, said they saw the body of a woman in the water and helped to pull her into the boat. He said he was about to start CPR when an EMT arrived and took over.
A spokeswoman for the Cox Medical Center Branson said four adults and three children arrived at the hospital shortly after the incident. Two adults are in critical condition and the others were treated for minor injuries, Brandei Clifton said.
Steve Lindenberg, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Springfield, Missouri, said the agency issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the Branson area Thursday evening. Lindenberg said winds reached speeds of more than 60 mph (100 kph).
Capt. Jim Pulley, owner of Sea Tow Table Rock Lake, told the Springfield News-Leader that the winds pushed the duck boat that sank behind a steamboat that was tied to the dock.
Rader said an off-duty sheriff’s deputy working security for the boat company helped rescue people after the boat sank. Dive teams from several law enforcement agencies assisted in the effort.
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The National Transportation Safety Board said investigators will arrive on the scene Friday morning.
President Donald Trump tweeted his condolences Friday, extending his deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those involved.
“My deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those involved in the terrible boat accident which just took place in Missouri,” President Trump said. “Such a tragedy, such a great loss. May God be with you all!”
Suzanne Smagala with Ripley Entertainment, which owns Ride the Ducks in Branson, said the company was assisting authorities with the rescue effort. Smagala added this was the Branson tour’s only accident in more than 40 years of operation.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic accident that occurred this evening at Ride The Ducks Branson. This incident has deeply affected all of us. We will continue to do all we can to assist the families who were involved and the authorities as they continue with the search and rescue. The safety of our guests and employees is our number one priories. We will provide updates as we have addition, confirmed information to share,” a spokesperson for Ride The Ducks Branson said in a statement.
Ripley Entertainment’s President, Jim Pattison, Jr., said, “People are supposed to be able to go out for an outing and have a good time and … this should never end this way. So … there’s not much more you can say.”
Ride The Ducks Branson will be closed while the investigation is underway. The company issued the following statement Friday.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic accident that occurred at Ride The Ducks Branson. This incident has deeply affected all of us. Words cannot convey how profoundly our hearts are breaking. We will continue to do all we can to assist the families who were involved. The safety of our guests and employees is our number one priority. Ride the Ducks will be closed for business while we support the investigation, and to allow time to grieve for the families and the community. Thank you for your support, and we ask that your thoughts and prayers be with the families during this time.”
Branson is about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Kansas City and is a popular vacation spot for families and other tourists looking for entertainment ranging from theme parks to live music. An EF2 tornado that bounced through downtown Branson in 2012 destroyed dozens of buildings and injured about three dozen people, but killed no one.
Duck boats, which can travel on land and in water, have been involved in other deadly incidents in the past. Five college students were killed in 2015 in Seattle when a duck boat collided with a bus, and 13 people died in 1999 when a duck boat sank near Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Safety advocates have sought improvements since the Arkansas deaths. Critics argued that part of the problem is that too many agencies regulate the boats with varying safety requirements.
Duck boats were originally used by the U.S. military in World War II to transport troops and supplies, and later were modified for use as sightseeing vehicles.
Mo. Gov. Mike Parson issued the following statement Friday morning:
“The reality of it is – we knew the storm front came through and it played a factor in that. It’s just terrible circumstances and it’s a terrible situation – and we don’t know all the details yet – all the whys. I’m sure we’ll find that out in the days to come. Right now it’s just it’s just about supporting the families in any way we can. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and that’s where we are right now.”
Other local officials offer condolences to families of those who died in duck boat crash
Images from the tragic scene:
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