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At Least 17 People Are Dead After A Tourist Boat Capsized In Missouri

The boat capsized in stormy weather on a lake near the vacation town of Branson.

Last updated on July 20, 2018, at 10:40 a.m. ET

Posted on July 19, 2018, at 9:41 p.m. ET

At least 17 people, including children, were killed after a tourist duck boat carrying 31 people capsized and sank during a storm Thursday evening near Branson, Missouri.

Andrew Jansen / The Springfield News-Leader via AP

Seven others aboard the boat were taken to hospitals, Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said Thursday night. Of the seven, two were critically injured, according to the hospital group Cox Health. The others, who included three children, were treated for minor injuries.

The boat capsized as a powerful storm brought strong winds and waves to Table Rock Lake near Branson.

The death toll rose from 11 to 13 Friday morning when divers recovered two more bodies from the water overnight, Rader said. The remaining four bodies were recovered in the morning, bringing the number to 17.

A severe thunderstorm warning had been issued for the area just before the boat capsized.

Severe Thunderstorm Warning including Branson MO, Hollister MO, Cassville MO until 7:30 PM CDT

Law enforcement received the first 911 call about the boat capsizing at 7:09 p.m., Rader said Friday morning.

Wind gusts in the area were reported up to 63 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Branson,MO (BBG) ASOS reports gust of 55 knots (63.3 mph) from NNW @ 0025Z

Winds were likely stronger over the lake itself, meteorologist Steve Linderberg told the Associated Press.

"There's nothing to slow down winds in an open area," he said.

Video of the sinking boat's final moments was captured by a passenger dining on a nearby showboat.

View this video on YouTube

youtube.com

The video, shot by Jennie Phillips-Hudson Carr aboard the larger Showboat Branson Belle, showed wind and waves battering the sinking boat.

"Oh, those poor people," a woman can be heard saying as the duck boat takes on water.

"Oh no, somebody needs to help them," another woman says.

In a subsequent video posted by Carr, she says, "One of the ducks sank, and everybody on board here is trying to get them out of the water," as people are heard in the background working to rescue the victims.

Video from a nearby lakefront restaurant showed the severity of the storm. "I've never seen it quite this bad," a man says. "Boats can't get in, boats can't get out."

Facebook: video.php

Eyewitnesses described the chaos of the night on Friday.

Tony Burkhart, who had planned to be aboard the boat, said that he had seen the bad weather roll in and decided to get a refund for himself and his wife.

"We waited a few minutes in a line of people," Burkhart later told CNN, "who were shockingly still going to purchase tickets as we were going for our refund."

The couple said they then saw the crew of the boat "scrambling to gather all the life preservers on board and tossing them to those who were in the water after the duck boat capsized."

The two got out of the way for first responders, and Burkart posted a short video clip of the dark clouds he'd seen to Twitter.

We saw high winds + bad weather roll in, so I decided to get a refund and leave with my wife. Headed out, countless first responders + emergency vehicles were going in #Branson to help with the #DuckBoat incident. Branson Belle crew helped toss life preservers to those overboard. https://t.co/71H61ir0Gy

Passengers on a separate boat, Trent Behr and his girlfriend, Allison Lester, told ABC Friday that the weather had started out nice that day, but that things turned dark "suddenly and out of nowhere."

"The wind really picked up bad and debris was flying everywhere," Lester said. "The waves were really rough."

A few minutes later, the captain told the passengers that another boat had flipped and was sinking.

"So all of the staff, all of the waiters, waitresses that may be on our showboat actually grabbed life jackets, AEDs, were running up and down the aisles helping as much as they could," Behr said. (An AED is an automated external defibrillators.)

At one point, Behr and other passengers helped pull an unconscious woman from the water, he said, before EMTs arrived.

On Friday, people in the Branson community placed flowers on the cars that remained in the parking lot of the boat tours, in memory of the victims.

The boat carrying tourists was an amphibious Ride the Ducks craft, one of several attractions in the area that draw families on vacation.

Instagram: @bransonducks

Ride the Ducks in Branson is owned by Ripley Entertainment, owner of the Ripley's Believe It Or Not attractions.

Suzanne Smagala-Potts, a spokesperson for the company, told BuzzFeed News the company was "deeply saddened by the tragic accident that occurred this evening at Ride The Ducks Branson."

"This incident has deeply affected all of us," Smagala-Potts said in a statement. "The safety of our guests and employees is our number one priority."

She added that the company worked with authorities throughout the search and rescue, and would continue to cooperate with officials.

On Friday, Jim Pattison Jr., the president of Ripley Entertainment, told CBS the boat "shouldn't have been in the water."

"I don't have all the details, but to answer your question, no, it shouldn't have been in the water if, if what happened, happened," he said. "This business has been operating for 47 years, and we've never had an incident like this or anything close to it. To the best of our knowledge – and we don't have a lot of information now – but it was a fast-moving storm that came out of basically nowhere, is sort of the verbal analysis I've got."

On Friday afternoon, Ride the Ducks tweeted that the company would be closed for business as an investigation takes place.

The safety of our guests and employees is our number one priority. Ride the Ducks will be closed for business while we support the investigation, and to allow time to grieve for the families and the community. https://t.co/DHhlo3w5PH https://t.co/YLX8QtzflQ

This is a developing story. Check back soon for updates and follow @BuzzFeedNews on Twitter.

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