Divers on Friday pulled the last four bodies from the wreckage of a "duck boat" that sank in a storm in a Missouri lake, killing 17 people in one of the deadliest U.S. tourist incidents in recent years.
The World War II-style amphibious vehicle was filled with 31 passengers including children when a microburst storm hit Table Rock Lake outside the tourist city of Branson, Missouri, on Thursday. A video of the incident showed it battered by waves.
Wendy Doucey, an office manager at the Stone County Sheriff's Office, said that divers had recovered the four bodies from the sunken duck boat. The vehicle was 80 feet under water.
"It's important that we find out for sure what events did occur," Governor Michael Parson said at a Friday morning news conference. "Today it's just still early."
The incident began around 7 p.m. Thursday after thunderstorms rolled through the area, when two duck boats were out on the lake, officials said. Both headed back to shore but only one made it.
"From what I understand there was life jackets in the duck," Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader told the press conference. He declined to answer questions about whether passengers had been wearing them at the time.
The National Transportation Safety Board and U.S. Coast Guard are investigating, officials said. Rader noted that the boat's captain survived the sinking but the driver did not.
Officials did not comment on the identities or ages of the other people who drowned.
74 mph winds
Jennie Carr witnessed the last moments of the tourist duck boat while on a lake cruise aboard the Showboat Branson Belle.
"The one that sunk, it was having trouble. You could tell that it couldn't go very fast. He kept sinking down in the water a little bit. The waves went over the top of it," Carr told NBC's "Today" show. "There wasn't really nothing you could do."
The company that owned the duck boat, Ripley Entertainment, said that it was working with families of the victims.
"Our number one priority is the families and our employees that were affected by this tragic accident," spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala-Potts said Thursday.
Table Rock Lake is a 67-square-mile reservoir containing water impounded by the Table Rock Dam on the White River.
National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Linderberg told the Springfield News-Leader newspaper that high winds were recorded at the Branson airport near the time of the incident.
"We had a line of very strong thunderstorms that caused 74 mph winds here in Springfield," he told the newspaper, noting that winds were likely stronger on the lake.
Long history of accidents on land and water
Duck vehicles, inspired by watercraft used in the D-Day landing in World War II, are used on sightseeing tours around the world and have been involved in a number of fatal and non-fatal accidents on land and in the water in the past two decades, with 26 deaths in the past 20 years, not counting those who have died in Missouri. Here are a few of the worst incidents:
Seattle: The company that builds ducks, Ride the Ducks International LLC, agreed in 2016 to pay a $1 million fine after one of the vehicles' axles sheared off and it collided with a bus in Seattle in 2015, killing five international students, critically injuring eight and seriously injuring eight others. The company admitted to hundreds of violations and failing to comply with U.S. vehicle manufacturing rules.
Philadelphia: Two tourists died in 2010 when the duck boat they were riding in was struck by a tugboat in the Delaware River.
Ontario: In 2002, a duck sank in the Ottawa River, and four passengers drowned when they were trapped under its canopy.
Hot Springs, Ark.: In 1999, a military surplus duck sank, killing 13 people. Passengers were not wearing life preservers. In other accidents, passengers have said getting the life preservers on has been difficult.
Duck boats have also been involved in many other smaller incidents as well on land and in the water, striking and killing pedestrians in Boston and Philadelphia in recent years. On the road, the vehicles ride high and take up a great deal of space, and it's difficult for drivers to see what's around them. They have also experienced mechanical failures such as in the Seattle crash. In the water, they have experienced leaks, corrosion and swamping.
Located in southwestern Missouri, Branson is home to tourist attractions including "Dolly Parton's Stampede," a horse show, a and a Titanic museum with a model of the sunken vessel's front half.