At least 17 people have died, including nine members of one family, after a tourist boat capsized Thursday in Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri, according to emergency officials.
Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said Friday in a news conference that the Missouri Highway Patrol Dive Team had returned to the water that morning to recover the bodies of four more people, increasing the death toll. Fourteen survivors have been accounted for, including seven who were hospitalized. Two have critical injuries.
The Southern Stone County Fire Protection District said multiple agencies responded to a mass casualty call shortly after 7 p.m. local time for an amphibious “duck boat” that was carrying 31 people, including children. The vehicle is owned by Ride the Ducks, a popular tourist company with offices in several cities. The craft, which can be piloted in both water and on land, capsized as severe thunderstorms were moving through the area and has since sunk, according to KSDK-TV in St. Louis.
“I believe it was caused by the weather,” Rader originally said during a Thursday news briefing, adding that the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board are leading the investigation. Later on Friday, Rader said it was too early in the investigation to determine the cause.
A video taken from a restaurant on the lake shows a Ride the Ducks boat, which appears to have enclosed sides, attempting to navigate through rough waves. Investigators told local news outlet KY3 that two of the company’s boats were on the lake at the time, and one made it back safely. It’s unclear if the vehicle in the video was the one that sank.
The captain of the boat survived, but the driver did not, Rader said Friday. The police are still notifying families and are not providing any other information about the rest of the victims.
Missouri Gov. Michael Parson (R) told CNN he met with one survivor who lost nine members of her family in the accident.
“It’s difficult to find the right words to say,” he said of the meeting.
The divers located the boat and will probably recover it later Friday, Rader added. Life jackets were also reportedly on the boat, but Rader said he could not answer if anyone was wearing one.
Eric Nielson, the fire district’s public information officer, told HuffPost that a coroner was on the scene and that divers were in the water Thursday evening searching for any survivors or victims.
A Stone County sheriff’s deputy and other employees on the Branson Belle, a showboat nearby, helped bring people to safety.
“There was actually a deputy on the boat. He was in the water rescuing people,” Rader said.
Parson addressed the incident on Twitter late Thursday, offering his “prayers for all those involved.”
Jim Pattison Jr., president of Ripley Entertainment, which owns Ride the Ducks, told “CBS This Morning” that initial reports indicated the incident was caused by “a fast-moving storm [that] came out of basically nowhere.”
“It is absolutely devastating and our hearts and prayers go out to everyone that’s been affected,” Pattison said.
President Donald Trump offered his “deepest sympathies” to the victims’ families.
The lake is now open to the public, Rader said.
Duck boats have been involved in fatal accidents in the past. In 2015, five people died and 69 were injured as a result of a collision when the boat was driving on a Seattle road and its axle broke. A duck boat trip in Arkansas in 1999 also turned deadly when it sank because of inadequate maintenance. Thirteen of the 21 people aboard died.
This article has been updated to include the latest number of fatalities, additional details from the sheriff’s office and comments from the company that owns Ride The Ducks and from Trump. It has also been updated to include statistics from the 2015 Seattle collision that reflect all casualties that resulted from the incident.
Michelle Lou contributed to reporting.
CORRECTION: A previous version of the HuffPost video at the top of this article misstated the number of fatalities of a 2015 duck boat accident in Seattle as 53, rather than five.