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Federal and state probes begin into Missouri duck boat sinking

The safety of the amphibious vessels is being called into question

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Questions continue to be raised about the safety of amphibious duck boats, even as federal and state investigations begin into the sinking of one of the crafts in Missouri, claiming 17 lives.

The horrific accident occurred Thursday afternoon, when a severe thunderstorm swept across Table Rock Lake, near Branson, Mo. The boat, which has tires and can be driven on land like a truck, was unstable in the rough waves and high winds, taking on water and then capsizing.

An investigation team from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) arrived on the scene Friday afternoon. On Twitter, the agency asked for help from the public.

"If you have video or photos of the July 19, amphibious vehicle accident on Table Rock Lake near Branson, MO, or if you witnessed the accident, please contact the NTSB via email at," the agency said.

In fact, videos of the horrifying scene surfaced immediately after the accident, such as the one below.

Questions facing the investigation

Besides the NTSB, the U.S. Coast Guard will conduct an investigation into the accident, and whether the boats should have even been on the lake with a storm approaching.

In an interview with CBS News, Jim Patterson Jr., President of Ripley Entertainment, owner of the duck boats, said the storm that sank the boat was moving faster than expected.

But when pressed on whether the boat should have been in the water with a severe storm approaching, Patterson agreed "it shouldn't have been in the water, if what happened, happened."

Ripley Entertainment issued a statement saying it would do all it could to assist the families and is cooperating fully with the investigation.

Over the weekend a St. Louis-based private vehicle inspector told the Associated Press that he warned the company there were design flaws in the amphibious vehicles that increased their danger of sinking.

In a 2017 report, Steve Paul of Test Drive Technologies warned the craft's engines and pumps could be prone to failure in rough seas. Normally, the duck boats are operated on calm lakes.

Other accidents

Former NTSB chairman Jim Hall says duck boats should be banned. He told USA Today the vehicles aren't quite boats and aren't quite automobiles, so they escape regulation.

Attorney Robert J. Mongeluzzi of Philadelphia says this is not the first time passengers have died aboard duck boats in operation around the country. He said he brought a case where he successfully demonstrated flaws in the craft's engineering.

"There have now been more than 40 deaths associated with these inherently unsafe, novelty tourist rides," Mongeluzzi said. "Why would those boats, which ride very low in the water on a calm day, even be operating given the severe weather conditions and posted small craft advisories? It was unconscionable."

Mongeluzzi's partner, attorney Andrew Duffy, said a 2010 duck boat accident in Philadelphia that claimed two lives resulted in recommendations to make water craft safer.

He said the firm presented engineering experts who showed how the vehicles were actually engineered to fail in a water emergency, their canopies trapping passengers in their life jackets rather than allowing their escape.

"This danger was known as early as 1999 and the NTSB's direction to remove the canopies was, tragically, ignored," Duffy said.

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