WARNING, DISTRESSING: A witness has captured video of waves crashing against two small duck boats in terrifying conditions in a storm on a lake in Missouri, before one capsized and sank, ending in tragedy.
Seventeen people died in the accident on Thursday night (local time), including some children, authorities said Friday after divers recovered the bodies of the last people who were missing.
Police said 31 people were aboard the amphibious vessel, known as a duck boat for its wheels that allow it to ride on land and float low on the water.
In distressing footage, two boats are seen struggling to reach shore against strong winds on Table Rock Lake near the city of Branson.
“We are at Branson and on the showboat! A storm came in as we got on and there was 2 ducks that you ride out there and 1 went under,” Jennie Phillips-Hudson Carr wrote on Facebook, CNN reports.
Ms Carr’s video was reportedly taken from a dinner cruise on the Showboat Branson Belle but has since been removed from social media.
Onlookers can be heard expressing their shock as the boats struggle in the conditions.
The 17 people who died ranged in age from one to 70 years of age, and included the boat’s driver, according to the Stone County Sheriff’s office.
Cox Medical Center Branson said six people were hospitalized.
– Sudden storm –
The accident was caused by heavy winds as a storm moved over the man-made lake in southern Missouri. The duck boat was one of two in the water at the time. The other safely reached shore.
People on a nearby larger vessel, known as the Branson Belle, jumped into the water to rescue victims, Sheriff Doug Rader said.
“(Rescuers) got there quickly,” eyewitness Curt Elleman told MSNBC.
“The first rescuing was private boats… and they began pulling people out immediately,” he said.
But the death toll quickly climbed as divers headed back in the water Friday morning to search for four people that had yet to be found.
Divers located the boat in 80 feet (25 meters) of water, landed on its wheels.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sent a team to investigate, as the sheriff urged witnesses to submit any additional video of the accident.
“My office has talked with NTSB,” tweeted US Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
“They’ve got a large team heading out to Branson… and will have investigators there for a couple of weeks,” she said.
– Investigation –
Among the unanswered questions were whether the boat crew was aware of weather warnings, and whether passengers were wearing life vests.
“From what I understand, there was life jackets in the duck (boat),” said Rader.
Rick Kettels, who owns the Lakeside Resort, said the storm formed suddenly at around 6:15 pm local time.
“It just came up real quick,” he told AFP. “I’ve been here most of my life and I never saw a storm this bad.”
Missouri meteorologist Steve Lindenberg told AFP a string of severe thunderstorms had barreled through the area.
Winds reached 74 miles (119 kilometers) per hour and a weather warning was issued at approximately 6:30 pm.
The first emergency call about the boat was placed approximately 30 minutes later.
– ‘Deepest sympathies’ –
Branson, Missouri, is a vacation destination popular for its theaters and country music, including singer Dolly Parton’s Civil War-themed attraction.
As the southern region near the Arkansas border struggled to come to grips with the tragedy, President Donald Trump tweeted his condolences.
“My deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those involved in the terrible boat accident which just took place in Missouri. Such a tragedy, such a great loss. May God be with you all!” he said.
My deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those involved in the terrible boat accident which just took place in Missouri. Such a tragedy, such a great loss. May God be with you all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 20, 2018
The company Ripley Entertainment owns the capsized boat, having added the “Ride the Ducks” attraction to its roster last year as a seasonal tour through the area’s famed Ozarks region.
The storm system that hit Missouri also struck much of the Midwest late Thursday, according to meteorologists.
Several tornadoes tore through Iowa to the north, causing injuries as well as damage to a number of buildings.
No fatalities were reported.