BRANSON, Mo. – Of course Johnathan Tudor remembers the date.
“July 19th,” Tudor, who’s the media contact for the Taney County Ambulance District, said when KOLR10 Photojournalist Lex Smith asked.
Today, on the one year anniversary of the duck boat tragedy at Table Rock Lake, first responders are invited to Cox Hospital in Branson for a barbecue. The event takes us back to the place where, for many law enforcement and paramedics, it all began.
Leaders will present appreciation plaques to agencies for their service during last year’s water rescue. KOLR10 Daybreak Reporter Hannah Zettl took a look back at the terrible event. A year later, we also want to look ahead, at how our community is coping.
“I was at my house working in my office,” mayor at the time, Karen Best, said.
“I was actually right in the middle of changing my garbage disposal,” Matt Farmer, the director of nursing at Cox hospital in Branson, said.
“I was at dinner with my family,” Lynne Yaggy remembers. She’s the VP of Clinical Services for CoxHealth in Branson.
Current Branson Mayor Edd Akers was also with family. “We were getting ready to have an event down by the creek and play in the creek,” he said.
It’s the calm before the storm so notorious, most of us remember exactly where we were when we learned the news.
Pat Styron was vacationing in Branson to take her mind off the recent loss of her husband. She was having dinner on the Branson Belle when one of the duck boats began to sink.
“When I start thinking about it, it’s like yesterday, the feeling in my heart about how those people suffered,” Styron said.
Since then, three Ripley’s Entertainment employees have been indicted by a federal grand jury. Nineteen of 33 civil cases have been settled. Several law firms argue the duck boats were designed with flaws. And Republican Sen. Josh Hawley is working to change the law.
“I’ve introduced legislation that would not only require the duck boats to implement all the safety recommendations that the NTSB has been recommending for literally years, but would go above and beyond that,” Hawley said.
In the hours of darkness the morning after the duck boat sank, flowers, a delicate tribute to lives we’d later learn were lost, were left on the cars in the parking lot. While their memories remain in Branson, the Ride the Ducks attraction is gone. A new Ripley’s business has taken its place. Branson Top Ops keeps visitors on land, donating a portion of proceeds to first responders in the area, as a tribute.
We still don’t know the names of some of the Branson Belle heroes from that day, who watched as Stretch Duck 7 sank, and volunteered for a rescue mission they probably never thought would come complimentary to dinner and a show. Others, like Tudor’s team, are publicly recognized for their service, but ask you to shift your perspective moving forward.
“The biggest thing we get asked is ‘what is the worst call you have ever been on?’ and what a devastating thing to ask someone,” Tudor said. “Those are skeletons buried in our closet that dont want to get back out. As far as our community goes, be careful what you ask.”
Wounds are still fresh. Akers explains that’s why you won’t find a duck boat tribute near Table Rock Lake one year later.
“Right away there were people wanting to jump in and do things, special things. But it’s just like in any time you have a tragedy, you need time to stop and think and look at it and heal from it,” he said. “And I think this community is still having trouble healing from that. “
A memorial is in the works, for when the time is right. Because when you can’t forget, it’s okay to remember July 19th, as a day not even the strongest waves can wash away.