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story.lead_photo.caption Some of the duck boats parked in a lot in the 4700 block of Central Avenue Thursday, May 2, 2019. (The Sentinel-Record/Richard Ramussen)

HOT SPRINGS -- The scion of a local family that has operated duck boats in Hot Springs since 1992 has acquired boats bearing the logo of the Branson, Mo., operator involved in last summer's fatal duck boat sinking.

But Stacy Roberts said amphibious passenger vessels emblazoned with Ride the Ducks markings seen in the area recently were not part of Ripley Entertainment Inc.'s fleet. Ripley is the owner/operator of Stretch Duck 07, the boat that capsized in the storm-churned waters of Table Rock Lake in July. Seventeen of its 31 passengers were killed.

Roberts, whose family owns National Park Duck Tours, said the 18 boats he purchased were owned by Ride The Ducks International, a nationwide operator/manufacturer of the World War II era curiosities. It sold its Branson operation to Ripley in December 2017. Stretch Duck 07 sank eight months later.

Ripley announced earlier this year that Branson Ride the Ducks will not operate this year as a result of ongoing investigations into the accident.

Roberts said his newly acquired boats were among 40 from which Ride The Ducks International allowed Ripley to choose. Ripley selected 22, leaving Ride The Ducks with 18 from its Branson operation. Roberts said only eight are operable, but the terms of the sale required him to purchase the remainder of Ride The Ducks' Branson fleet.

He said they were purchased for DUKW Arkansas LLC, a separate entity from the parent company that owns National Park Duck Tours.

"DUKW Arkansas LLC is only an investment company," he said. "We have no intention of running [the boats] in Hot Springs."

Roberts said he plans to apply for U.S. Coast Guard certificates of inspection for the eight operable boats. The Coast Guard said none of the 18 are certified to operate in Hot Springs. It's unclear whether they were among those identified as prone to sinking during an August 2017 inspection Ripley commissioned before acquiring Ride the Ducks' Branson portfolio.

Court records from lawsuits brought against Ride The Ducks and Ripley by victims' families indicate the inspector Ripley hired alerted the company to safety concerns with the boats. The pleadings maintain the company disregarded those concerns.

"Defendants were specifically told that the dangerous design of the duck boats rendered them susceptible to sinking in the event of rough conditions on the water due to the improper placement of the motor's exhaust in front of the boat and below the water line," the pleadings said, noting that Stretch Duck 07 was included in the inspection. "[The inspector] told defendants that in rough conditions water could get into the exhaust system, then into the motor, cutting it off."

The Coast Guard said conditions of operation were added to certificates of inspection issued to National Park Duck Tours. The certificates The Sentinel-Record obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show the Lake Hamilton part of the company's sightseeing excursion is limited to 30 minutes, with boats prohibited from ranging more than 75 yards from the shore around St. John's Island to Majestic Point.

A minimum of 15.5 inches must be maintained between the waterline and rear deck.

"These were recommendations by the company that we agreed with," Chief Warrant Officer Chad Lankford said. "They have taken lessons learned from other operations to ensure they exceed our requirements and expectations."

Metro on 05/06/2019

Print Headline: Arkansas firm buys Branson duck boats


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Archived Comments

    May 6, 2019 at 7:04 a.m.

    It is well past time for the USCG to deny or revoke all duck boat permits for passenger use.

  • LR1955
    May 6, 2019 at 7:23 a.m.

    What he said^^^
    Time to retire from public use.

  • PopMom
    May 6, 2019 at 7:26 a.m.

    These should be banned. They are too heavy. How many people have to die before we understand that?

  • NunyaB
    May 6, 2019 at 8:10 a.m.

    I wander how many accidents over all have happened since they have been in service as tour boats. They have been in service everywhere there is water for as long as I can remember. I rode in one almost 50 years ago. Would be interesting to compare fatalities to airlines over same time frame. Just my $.02

    May 6, 2019 at 8:25 a.m.

    I think that if you compare deaths per 1000 passengers or something similar - duck boats will look pretty bad. From ABC:

    Here's a look back at deadly incidents involving duck boats through the years.

    1999: Hot Springs, Arkansas

    Thirteen people died when a duck boat sank to the bottom of Lake Hamilton.

    An NTSB investigation concluded that inadequate maintenance caused the vessel to sink. The boat took on water due to a loose rubber boot and began to sink.

    Seven passengers and the operator of the boat managed to escape.

    July 2010: Philadelphia

    Two tourists were killed when a tugboat-guided barge struck a Ride The Ducks boat on the Delaware River. The duck boat sank after being struck by the barge.

    The driver of the tugboat that was guiding the barge was charged with manslaughter after it was determined he had been distracted by his laptop and cellphone "for an extended period of time prior to the collision."

    The tourists who died were Hungarian students visiting the U.S. on a church exchange. The families of the victims won a $17 million settlement.

    May 8, 2015: Philadelphia

    A duck boat driving on the street struck and killed pedestrian Elizabeth Karnicki of Beaumont, Texas. At the time Ride the Ducks, the company that operates the vehicles, said that no citation was issued "and the police indicated Ride The Ducks was not at fault."

    Lawyer Robert Mongeluzz, who represented families of victims for both Philadelphia crashes, said on Friday that he believes duck boats should be banned.

    "This has happened repeatedly. I watched the video last night. They ride low in the water. The boat capsized and, quite frankly, they should be banned," he said of the Missouri accident in a phone interview with 6abc Action News. "This is not something we are just saying now."

    Sept. 24, 2015: Seattle

    Five college students were killed when a duck boat collided with a bus. The driver of the duck boat said he lost control of the vehicle before it veered into oncoming traffic on the Aurora Bridge, according to the NTSB report.

    April 30, 2016: Boston

    Allison Warmuth, who was riding a scooter, was struck and killed by a duck boat. One of the stipulations of a 2016 settlement was that the driver would not be permitted to operate a duck boat for that tour company again.

    July 19, 2018: Branson, Missouri
    Thursday's accident on Table Rock Lake left 17 dead. The Missouri Highway Patrol confirmed that children were among the dead. There were 31 people on board, according to ABC News.

    "We are deeply saddened by the tragic accident," Suzanne Smagala-Potts of Ride the Ducks Branson, the company involved in the accident, said in a statement.

    "This incident has deeply affected all of us," Smagala-Potts said. "We will continue to do all we can to assist the families who were involved and the authorities as they continue with the search and rescue. The safety of our guests and employees is our number one priority."

  • limb
    May 6, 2019 at 8:26 a.m.

    Their view of something that is lucrative yet flawed: it’s safe if Jesus is with you. If Jesus was not with you that day it was your turn.

  • ArkCurmudgeon
    May 6, 2019 at 10:11 a.m.

    Is this the same bunch that operated the company responsible for the deaths in Hot Springs in 1999? How could the reporter not mention that tragedy.
    Have recommendations made by the NTSB been implemented such as, removing the canopy before entering the water, adding flotation to the boat so that it can't sink?
    Yeah, those boats are great.They only sink and kill multiple people once every twenty years...

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    May 6, 2019 at 10:51 a.m.

    A$$hole carpetbaggers are trying to kill more people!!!!

  • hurricane46
    May 6, 2019 at 12:35 p.m.


  • MaxCady
    May 6, 2019 at 3:43 p.m.

    I can't believe those deathtraps haven't been sued out of existence. They're long past due for the scrap heap.