BRANSON, Mo. — Four years ago today, over a dozen people died when a Branson tour boat sank on Table Rock Lake. Here’s a look back at what happened and what answers we’re still waiting for.

Seventeen people died on July 19, 2018, when a Branson Ride The Ducks tourist boat sank with 31 people aboard due to being on Table Rock Lake during a severe thunderstorm. The incident captured national interest as the death count rose and the boat was brought back to the surface.

People connected to the incident are still going to court for their involvement. Though four years have passed and the boats are back on the water for the first time this summer, the story continues to develop.

Current Court Cases

The captain, general manager, and a manager with Ripley Entertainment, the company that operated the tour boats are all still being prosecuted for their roles in the incident.

The captain of the Duck Boat, Kenneth Scott McKee, is charged with 17 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the 17 people who died that day, as well as 12 counts of endangering the welfare of a child.

The general manager of the Duck Boat company, Curtis Lanham, and the manager, Charles Baltzell, are charged with 17 counts of involuntary manslaughter.

All three men have a preliminary hearing scheduled for Nov. 8 of this year. Before that, on Oct. 14, a judge will consider a motion that the hearing be heard off the record.

The reason the hearings are still upcoming is that a Stone County judge ruled in April of this year that there was not enough evidence to prove criminal negligence against the three men. In response, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt refiled the criminal charges against the three men to create a new case.

“As I’ve said previously, my Office is committed to fighting for justice on behalf of the 17 people that were tragically killed in 2018 – that’s why we re-filed the charged in this case,” Schmitt shared after filing the charges.

Ripley Entertainment, the parent company of the tourist attraction, settled lawsuits with the families of the victims and survivors of the incident. The terms of the settlements are confidential.

What Happened

On July 19, 2018, tourists boarded Stretch Duck 7, one of the Ride the Ducks Boats set to sail on Table Rock Lake. The boat departed just before 7:00 p.m.

The first 911 call about the sinking came in at 7:09.

Much of the discussion surrounding the Duck Boat sinking during the first time the case against McKee, Lanham and Baltzell went to court surrounded the weather on Table Rock Lake on the evening of July 19, 2018, and whether the boat should have been in the water at all.

A U.S. Coast Guard report stated the boats should not have sailed because of high winds. A National Transportation Safety Board report said local forecasts at the time of the accident included thunderstorm warnings and indicated winds over 70 miles per hour.

When the hurricane-like winds caused the boat to capsize, the structure of the boat made it difficult for people to escape. The boat had a canopy-like coverage that trapped people inside.

Survivors said that before the ride, the captain did not instruct passengers to put on life vests. They said the captain also lowered a window covering, which further prevented escape when the boat sank.

Emergency responders talked to Ozarks First about what it was like to help in the aftermath of a tragedy like the Duck Boat sinking. Matt Farmer, Director of the Emergency Department, at CoxHealth Branson said in 2018, “a lot of suffering was brought to our doorstep and had to react to it.”

The Victims

Ozarks First spoke with one of the survivors of the Duck Boat tragedy just days after the incident happened. Tia Coleman was visiting Branson from Indiana with her family. She lost nine family members that night.

“I couldn’t see anybody. And I know it wasn’t but I felt like I struggled for at least an hour, but it was probably like 10 minutes. And I just remembered I kept sinking . . . I kept sinking,” she told Ozarks First during an interview from the hospital.

Coleman’s was one of the lawsuits filed against Ripley Entertainment.

The family of William and Janice Bright, who were in Branson celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary, also died when the Duck Boat sank. Their family filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

The 17 people who died in the Duck Boat incident are:

  • William Asher, 69, St. Louis, Mo.
  • Janice Bright, 63, Higginsville, Mo.
  • William Bright, 65, Higginsville, Mo.
  • Angela Coleman, 45, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • Arya Coleman, 1, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • Belinda Coleman, 69, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • Ervin Coleman, 76, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • Evan Coleman, 7, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • Glenn Coleman, 40, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • Horace Coleman, 70, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • Maxwell Coleman, 2, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • Reece Coleman, 9, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • Leslie Dennison, 64, Illinois.
  • Rosemarie Hamann, 68, St. Louis Mo.
  • Lance Smith, 15, Osceola, Ark.
  • Steve Smith, 53, Osceola, Ark.
  • Bob Williams, 73, Branson, Mo.

Duck Boat Tours Return to Branson

In the spring of 2022, Branson’s Duck Tours opened up at the Branson Landing, taking tourists around Lake Taneycomo. The boats have a foam-filled hull and have been certified by the U.S. Coast Guard, according to the company. This new company is not affiliated with Ripley Entertainment.

The site of the Ride the Ducks attraction is now the home of Branson Top Ops. The business opened in 2019 and donated 10 percent of that year’s proceeds to first responders.