Missouri lawmaker pledges to beef up safety standards on duck boats

A Missouri lawmaker vowed Monday to beef up safety standards for amphibious duck boats following Thursday’s deadly accident that killed 17 people and injured several more.

Republican State Senator David Sater told The Associated Press he was awaiting the results of the federal investigation into the accident but promised that “this issue will not get dropped.”

The pledge from Sater came on the same day crews recovered the Ride the Ducks boat from 80 feet of murky lake water near the tourist town of Branson.

As the vessel broke the surface mid-morning on Monday, two small Americans flags remained on the front. Unused orange life jackets dangled from the frame of the boat as a haunting reminder of the chain of events that occurred five days ago.

After pulling the duck boat out of the water, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board took custody of it.

It is not clear how long the investigation will take but similar ones have taken up to a year.

Kelly and Bob Ivers, who are visiting friends in nearby Hollister, Mo., were among a handful of residents and tourists who watched a crane attached to a barge pull the broken boat from the lake.

“I wanted to go by the Ducks office location too but I couldn’t bring myself to drive past it,” Kelly Ivers told Fox News. “So we’re here instead. We prayed for the victims and for the captain. He will have to live with this his entire life.”

The duck boat that sank on Table Rock Lake had 31 people on board.

The amphibious vessel overturned during a fast-moving summer storm that produced near-hurricane gusts which turned ripples into massive waves.

Cellphone video from a witness showed the duck boat taking on water and struggling to move before sinking, making it one of the deadliest duck boat accidents in U.S. history.

Coast Guard Lt. Tasha Sadowicz of the agency's St. Louis office said the boat that sank was known as "Stretch Duck 07." Like all of the duck boats in operation in Branson, it was required to undergo annual inspections.

The Coast Guard said the Branson duck boat that sank was built in 1944 and had passed an inspection in February.

But Sadowicz said the Coast Guard's "certificate of inspection" placed limits on when the boats can enter the water based on wind speed and "sea state," which refers to the height of waves.

Sadowicz did not have information on Stretch Duck 07's limits but said they will be a focal point of the investigation.

Sadowicz said investigators also want to find out if operators were adequately monitoring the weather and should have reasonably known a storm was approaching.

Witnesses have told Fox News that the weather appeared calm before a storm suddenly whipped up strong waves and spray.

But nearly eight hours earlier, the National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the western and central Missouri counties.

A severe thunderstorm warning that went out at 6:32 p.m. specifically mentioned Table Rock Lake. The first emergency calls over the accident occurred just after 7 p.m.

Meteorologist Elisa Raffa of KOLR-TV in Springfield said in a phone interview Saturday that her station was forecasting the threat of severe weather all morning.

Coast Guard Capt. Scott Stoermer said the investigation will also look into whether the boat captain followed company guidelines regarding use of life jackets.

Missouri law requires boat passengers ages 7 and younger to wear life jackets, but commercial vessels like the duck boats are exempt.

The law requires enough life jackets for passengers and crew, and jackets that fit all of the children. Whether to advise passengers to use life jackets is an "operation decision" made by the captain, Stoermer said.

Survivor Tia Coleman told reporters from her hospital bed on Saturday that the boat's captain told riders they would not need life jackets. When the vessel began to take on water, Coleman said "it was too late."

"I believe that a lot of people could have been spared," said Coleman, who lost 9 members of her family on the duck boat. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report