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UPDATE: Death toll rises in Duck Boat accident, children among victims

At least 13 people, including children, died after a boat carrying tourists capsized and sank on a lake during a thunderstorm in that slammed into Branson, Mo. authorities said Friday. The “duck” boat is an amphibious vehicle that can be seen all over Branson filled with up to 35 passengers each.

It was a horrific incident that that broke the light-hearted and fun atmosphere that normally permeates the family entertainment and recreation area which has become one of the nation’s biggest tourist destinations.

Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Jason Pace said four people remain missing Friday after the Ride the Ducks boat sank on Table Rock Lake in Branson Thursday evening. He said 14 people survived, and that seven of them were injured.

Patrol divers found two more bodies early Friday, raising the death toll from 11 to 13, Pace said. Assistance in the rescue and recovery was given by the Showboat Branson Belle, owned by the Herschend company which operates nearby Silver Dollar City.

A spokeswoman for the Cox Medical Center Branson said four adults and three children arrived at the hospital shortly after the incident. Two adults are in critical condition and the others were treated for minor injuries, Brandei Clifton said.

Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said Thursday that stormy weather likely made the boat capsize. Another duck boat on the lake made it safely back to shore.

Steve Lindenberg, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Springfield, Missouri, said the agency issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the Branson area Thursday evening. Lindeberg said winds reached speeds of more than 60 mph (100 kph). It was the same storm that brought heavy rain and baseball size hail to eastern Kansas and Kansas City.

“It’s a warning telling people to take shelter,” he said.

Rader said an off-duty sheriff’s deputy working security for the boat company helped rescue people after the boat capsized. Dive teams from several law enforcement agencies assisted in the effort.

The National Transportation Safety Board said investigators will arrive on the scene Friday morning.

Suzanne Smagala with Ripley Entertainment, which owns Ride the Ducks in Branson, said the company was assisting authorities with the rescue effort. Smagala added this was the Branson tour’s only accident in more than 40 years of operation.

Branson continues to be one of the most popular vacation spots in the Midwest for families and other tourists looking for entertainment ranging from theme parks to live music.

Duck boats, which can travel on land and in water, have been involved in other deadly incidents in the past. Five college students were killed in 2015 in Seattle when a duck boat collided with a bus, and 13 people died in 1999 when a duck boat sank near Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Safety advocates have sought improvements since the Arkansas deaths. Critics argued that part of the problem is that too many agencies regulate the boats with varying safety requirements.

Duck boats were originally used by the U.S. military in World War II to transport troops and supplies, and later were modified for use as sightseeing vehicles.