Seventeen people, including children and nine members of one family, were killed when a tourist boat capsized and sank in a lake during a storm late Thursday in the midwestern state of Missouri.
State Highway Patrol Sgt. Jason Pace said the deceased were between the ages of one and 70.
Thirty-one people were on the vehicle, which can travel on water as well as land. Officials say 14 people were rescued.
The vessel was one of two duck boats on the water at the time. The other boat made it safely to shore, according to reports.
President Donald Trump, via Twitter, extended his “deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those involved in the terrible boat accident which just took place in Missouri.
My deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those involved in the terrible boat accident which just took place in Missouri. Such a tragedy, such a great loss. May God be with you all!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 20, 2018
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 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph).
Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said the first emergency call came in at 7:09 p.m. local time. Rader said he believes the boat sank in 12 meters (40 feet) of water, and proceeded to roll into much deeper water. The boat has been located, Rader said. News reports said authorities plan to recover it later in the day.
The president of the company that owns the duck boat said in an interview with the program CBS This Morning that the vessel “shouldn’t have been in the water.” CBS said Jim Pattison, Jr., the president of Ripley Entertainment, was answering a question on why the boat was operating in rough weather. He also told CBS that life jackets were on board the vehicle but that under law, the passengers were not required to wear them.
Ride the Ducks Branson, the company that owned the sunken boat, announced in a Facebook post that it would be “closed for business while we support the investigation.”
“Words cannot convey how profoundly our hearts are breaking,” the post read. “We will continue to do all we can to assist the families who were involved.”
In honor of the victims, Missouri Governor Mike Parson ordered flags at all state and government offices to be flown at half-staff until sunset on July 27.
By order of @GovParsonMO, effective immediately, all flags at all State and government offices will be flown at half-staff, until sunset, July 27, 2018, honoring the victims of the boating accident at Table Rock Lake in Stone County.— Missouri OA (@MissouriOA) July 20, 2018
At a news conference, Parson said the state will do everything “within my powers” to make sure investigators have the resources needed to come to a conclusion on this incident and to finish with the investigation of this tragedy.
The National Transportation Safety Board is among the agencies taking part in the probe.
NTSB launching Go Team to investigate July 19, 2018, amphibious vehicle accident at Table Rock Lake, near Branson, MO. Team will travel Friday morning.— NTSB_Newsroom (@NTSB_Newsroom) July 20, 2018
Duck boats have been involved in other fatal accidents.
In 1999, a duck boat sank on a lake in Arkansas, killing 13. In 2015, a Ride the Ducks boat crashed into a bus in Seattle, killing five college students. A duck boat operator in Philadelphia suspended tours in 2016 following two accidents that left three people dead.
Karen Koehler, a Seattle attorney who represented victims of the 2015 accident, told VOA that the duck boats were not overseen by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — the federal body in charge of investigating safety defects in motor vehicles — until after the Seattle crash. Koehler said she would personally would not ride a duck boat.
Following the 2015 crash, the NHTSA fined Ride the Ducks International, which manufactured the Seattle boat, up to $1 million.
“You go from a World War II hybrid vehicle and basically say, ‘let’s make it a tourist vehicle,’” Koehler told VOA.
Branson is about 320 kilometers (200 miles) southeast of Kansas City. It is a popular vacation spot for families and other tourists seeking entertainment, from theme parks to live music.