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Springfield, MO

Opinion: Time to leave the duck boats in the dock

Eyes & Ears

Posted online

How many people need to die?

We’re talking about 20 years of deaths by amphibious vehicles.

Since a 1999 incident in Hot Springs, Arkansas, at least 40 people have died from accidents related to the Ride the Ducks boat tours.

That’s too many.

Some are now calling them “sinking coffins” and “death traps.” The lawsuits are stacking up in the latest incident – 17 deaths this summer in our backyard on Table Rock Lake. One family, the Colemans who lost nine members in the capsized boat accident, seeks $100 million.

Ride the Ducks’ operation in Branson is temporarily closed.

I’m calling for the corporation to walk away from this entertainment vehicle. Unless the operators heed previously given safety instructions to re-engineer parts of the boat, now is the time to close permanently and leave the duck boats in the dock.

Springfield Business Journal asked readers if parent company Ripley Entertainment Inc. should close Ride the Ducks Branson. At press time, 60 percent said yes and 40 percent said no, out of 394 votes.

It wouldn’t be the first time Ride the Ducks shut down an operation. The group permanently closed in Philadelphia in 2016, when there was a single-death incident the year prior and two others who died in the City of Brotherly Love in 2010.

The string of other related duck boat deaths looks like this: 13 in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1999; five in Seattle in 2015; and one in Boston in 2016, according to national and local media reports.

To be fair, the event in Branson was a highly unusual weather incident. The National Weather Service has classified the July 19 storm as a “derecho.” Meteorologists say to think of it as a line of thunderstorms on steroids.

Also, I understand passengers ride at their own risk. Same goes for roller coasters. And deaths happen there, too. A handful each year, in fact, according to multiple industry studies going back to the late 1980s.

Here’s the deal: National Transportation Safety Board warnings have been issued since the initial 1999 fatalities. While styled after the World War II DUKW’s, investigators of these incidents have repeatedly said the land-and-water vehicles do not have proper buoyancy and the standard canopies greatly increase the risk of trapping passengers should the vessels sink.

For years now, the operators have not followed NTSB’s recommendations to add backup buoyancy and remove the canopies.

Sure, it would be a business cost. But the cost of life is too great to bear.

Springfield Business Journal Editor Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.

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