Victims' family seek $100 Million for deadly duck boat accident - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Victims' family seek $100 Million for deadly duck boat accident

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Three daughters of a couple who died when a tourist boat sank on a Missouri lake have filed a lawsuit against the companies involved in its operation and two crew members.

The wrongful death lawsuit was filed today in Taney County Circuit Court by Missouri residents Michelle Chaffer, Christina Taylor and Rebekah Wittington, seeking more than $125,000 in damages. Their parents, William and Janice Bright, of Higginsville, Missouri, were on the duck boat that sank July 19 on Table Rock Lake.

The lawsuit names Ride the Ducks International, Ripley Entertainment Inc., and operators Kenneth McKee and Robert Williams as defendants. Williams died in the accident.

Today's lawsuit comes just one day after the family of an Indiana family who had nine relatives die filed suit. That lawsuit, filed in federal court Sunday, seeks at least $100 million in damages for the estates of Ervin Coleman and Maxwell Ly who died in the boat sinking on July 19.

The duck boat carrying 31 people sank after taking on too much water during a storm, and the lawsuit contends that Ripley Entertainment recklessly put the lives of its passengers at risk by ignoring storm warnings and failing to take corrective safety measures. Sixteen tourists and one crew member died.

On the day of the sinking, the lawsuit says company operators ignored a severe thunderstorm warning issued at 6:32 p.m. The captain and driver of Stretch Duck 07's were told to take the water portion of the tour before the land in an effort to beat the storm, a reversal of the original itinerary. As passengers boarded, the captain said he had monitored the weather before the trip.

The storm warning said winds could reach up to 60 miles per hour, and the boat encountered waves as high as 4 feet. Based on those circumstances, protocol calls for the captain to tell passengers to put on their life jackets, but that didn't happen.

During a 6:50 p.m. safety briefing the captain said passengers would not need their life jackets.

On Friday, the NTSB released an initial report following a review of video recordings, and within four minutes of being on the water, whitecaps rapidly appeared on the water and wind speeds increased around 7 p.m. The captain returned to the driver's seat, and the driver lowered plastic curtains, but court documents say as the boat sank, the curtains and canopy entrapped the passengers and crew.

At about 7:04 p.m., a bilge alarm went off. The NTSB said the captain reached down and the bilge alarm ended.

In the final minutes of the recordings, water splashed inside the area where passengers sit. At about 7:06 p.m., the bilge alarm once again went off, and a minute later, the inward-facing camera ended while the duck boat was still on the water's surface. A 911 call came in at 7:09 p.m. reporting that the duck boat sank and people were in the water.

Here is a detailed timeline of what took place on the boat, put together by the NTSB, following analysis of the video/audio system on the boat. Audio was also recorded, but not all of it is clear at this point. Recording lasted over a period of about 41 minutes from 6:27 p.m. to 7:08 p.m.

6:28 p.m. - The crew was told to take the water portion of the tour first by a crew member who briefly stepped on board. 

6:50 p.m. - Passengers were on the boat, and a safety briefing was conducted for the water portion of the tour, including where life jackets were located and how to put one on. 

6:55 p.m. - The boat was in the water, and the water appeared calm. 

7:00 p.m. - Winds increased rapidly, and water conditions became intense, creating whitecaps and waves, that's when the driver lowered the port, as well as clear plastic side curtains on the boat, meant to keep passengers from getting wet. 

7:01 p.m. - Captain can be heard commenting on the storm, and made radio calls at 7:03 and 7:05. 

In the final minutes of the recording, water can be seen splashing inside the boat, but the NTSB says low video quality made it hard to be precise on what exactly occurred. 

7:08 p.m. - While the vehicle was still on the surface, the inward facing camera on the boat stopped recording.  

The NTSB says this review is strictly preliminary, and can not be used to determine a cause until their investigation has a chance to validate all the video and audio. 

If you would like the read the full preliminary NTSB report, click here

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