NTSB to USCG: Act on duck boat safety

Written by Nick Blenkey
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The Coast Guard oversees the removal of Stretch Duck 7 from Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri, July 23, 2018 (USCG photo)

As part of its ongoing investigation of the fatal July 19, 2018, accident involving a modified WWII DUKW amphibious passenger vessel, the National Transportation Safety Board has issued a Marine Safety Recommendation Report calling upon the U.S. Coast Guard to require sufficient reserve buoyancy for DUKW amphibious passenger vessels, and to require the removal of canopies, side curtains and their associated framing, while underway, for those without sufficient reserve buoyancy.

Seventeen of the 31 people aboard the modified WWII DUKW Stretch Duck 7 died, when the vessel sank during a rapidly developing high-wind storm on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri.

Since 1999 the NTSB has issued 22 safety recommendations related to modified WWII DUKW vessels. Of those 22, nine were implemented, four were pending and classified open – acceptable response and the remaining nine had not been implemented and were classified open – unacceptable response, closed – unacceptable action or closed – unacceptable action/no response received. Safety recommendation M-00-5 addressed the need for DUKWs to have adequate reserve buoyancy but was classified closed – unacceptable action/no response received, eight years after its issuance.

The NTSB believes the failure to implement previous safety recommendations related to reserve buoyancy for DUKWs contributed to the sinking of the Stretch Duck 7. Similarly, the failure to implement the previously issued recommendation concerning fixed canopies, following the fatal, 1999 Miss Majestic DUKW accident, likely increased the number of fatalities resulting from Stretch Duck 7 sinking.

“Lives could have been saved, and the Stretch Duck 7 accident could have been prevented had previously issued safety recommendations been implemented,” said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. “The NTSB’s 1999 investigation of the another DUKW, the Miss Majestic, also identified the lack of reserve buoyancy and the dangers of canopies as safety issues. In 2008, recommendations from that accident addressing these safety issues were classified ‘Closed-Unacceptable Action’ due largely to inaction. Twenty years later, the same risk exists on these vessels, and that is unacceptable,” said Sumwalt. “It is imperative that the United States Coast Guard adopt these life-saving recommendations now.”

The investigation of the sinking of the Stretch Duck 7 is ongoing and probable cause has not yet been determined, however, information gained through the investigation warranted the issuance of the safety recommendation report before the investigation is completed.

The NTSB will issue a determination of probable cause for this accident when the investigation concludes.

“STOP THE SENSELESS DEATHS”

Duck boat disaster lawyer Robert J. Mongeluzzi today urged the U.S. Coast Guard to “once and for all stop the senseless deaths” by immediately adopting and enforcing today’s NTSB recommendations;

“While we commend the NTSB for its comprehensive post-accident investigation and life-saving recommendations,” said Mongeluzzi, “we demand that the Coast Guard finally makes passenger safety its highest priority and immediately do what it should have done 17 years ago, in 2002, when the NTSB made the same duck-boat safety recommendations following the May 1, 1999 Miss Majestic duck boat sinking near Hot Springs, Arkansas in which 13 passengers, including five children drowned. Seventeen years ago the NTSB recommended that duck boats be modified so they remain afloat while flooded or that they remove their death trap canopies. The Coast Guard and the duck boat industry ignored these vital safety recommendations and another 19 innocent victims died because of their failure to act. How many more must die before they will?”

Branson survivor-passenger Tia Coleman, of Indianapolis, whose husband and their three young children were killed when the boat sank, said today, ”Seventeen years ago the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that canopies be removed from Duck Boats and that their reserve buoyancy be improved so they wouldn’t sink. Neither the Duck Boat Industry, nor the Coast Guard, acted on these common sense safety recommendations. The duck boat industry and Coast Guard’s failure to act on the NTSB’s recommendations to remove death trap canopies and improve the buoyancy of these boats killed my family. I am publicly requesting the Commandant of the Coast Guard to meet with me to discuss these recommendations and work together to save lives.”

NTSB Marine Safety Recommendation Report 19/01 is available HERE

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