Divers have 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 US 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.
Officials pulled the bodies of four people from the sunken duck boat 24 metres underwater, Ozarks Public Radio reported, citing Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader.
“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 about 7pm on 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 said at the press conference. He declined to answer questions about whether passengers on the duck had been wearing them at the time.
The National Transportation Safety Board and US Coast Guard are investigating.
Sheriff Rader said 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.
Rick Kettles, the owner of the Lakeside Resort General Store and Restaurant, said he had never before seen conditions on Table Rock Lake like those that resulted from Thursday’s storm.
“I am 54 and I started coming here when I was six or seven years old. I have been on my lake most of my life and I have never seen it like this,” Kettles said. “I am trying to figure out why the boats were out there. I don’t get it, having a captain’s license myself.”
A microburst is a severe, localised wind gust, blasting down from a thunderstorm, typically covering an area less than 4km in diameter and lasting less than five minutes.
Duck vehicles, used on sightseeing tours around the world, have been involved in a number of fatal accidents on land and in the water in the past two decades.
Thirteen people died in 1999 when the duck boat they were riding near Hot Springs, Arkansas, sank suddenly.
The company that builds ducks, Ride the Ducks International LLC, agreed in 2016 to pay a $1 million fine after one of the vehicles, which operate on land as well as water, collided with a bus in Seattle, killing five international students.