MISSOURI — The man who steered a duck boat on a Missouri lake as a thunderstorm approached is heard on video earlier as saying he checked weather radar before the two-man crew set out with 29 tourists aboard, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
The NTSB is investigating the deadly accident and on Friday issued a news release containing a timeline that investigators gleaned from watching five channels of video and listening to audio recorded on the boat before the amphibious vessel was pounded by waves and sank in the storm. Seventeen people died.
The video itself was not released by the agency, which is focusing on the decision-making: who decided and why it was decided to take the vessel onto Table Rock Lake, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.
“The information (in the timeline) does not contain analysis,” the NTSB said. “As such, no conclusions regarding the cause of the accident should be made from this preliminary information.”
The agency said some information in the timeline will be corrected or supplemented.
The timeline says video shows a third person, who hopped on the back of the boat, telling the captain and the driver to do the water portion of the 70-minute tour first, the NTSB said.
About a minute later, according to the agency, “the captain made a verbal reference to looking at the weather radar prior to the trip.”
It took about 17 minutes for the driver to take the boat on land to the lake, where the captain, before taking over, spent about five minutes on a safety briefing. He pointed out the emergency exits and demonstrated how to use a life jacket, the NTSB says.
In a parenthetical explanation in its news release, the NTSB said the captain operates the duck boat on water and the driver operates it on the road.
When the boat entered the lake, the water was calm, according to the timeline. The NTSB does not mention whether the video showed conditions in the skies. Passenger Tia Coleman told reporters she thinks it was not cloudy when the boat went into the water
The video does show that waves and winds picked up five minutes later after the captain had let four children sit in the driver’s seat, according to the timeline. The captain soon returned to steer the boat while the driver lowered clear plastic curtains from the boat’s canopy.
While the time codes on the timeline have not been verified by the NTSB, they show the captain made a radio call about 7:03 p.m. CT, a few minutes after the storm whipped up the waves.
Sixty seconds later, an alarm connected to the lowest part of the vessel, the bilge, went off.
The timeline says the captain reached down at 7:05 p.m., the alarm went silent and the captain made another radio call. The NTSB says both radio calls were “currently unintelligible.”
During the final minute, the onboard video shows water sometimes splashing into the passenger compartment, according to the NTSB.
The bilge alarm tone sounded again about a minute before the video, which cuts out before the sinking, ends. Authorities have said the Ride the Ducks Branson ride sank about 7:09 p.m.
The agency is also looking at the water worthiness of the vehicle, the source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN on Thursday.
The captain and 13 passengers survived the sinking eight days ago.
According to weather data, a severe thunderstorm traveled hundreds of miles, prompting severe-weather alerts as it moved along, before it hit the lake.
Counties to the northwest of the Branson area were issued thunderstorm warnings at 5:45 p.m. The Branson area was placed under a severe thunderstorm warning shortly after 6:30 p.m.
That would have been after the crew was told to head to the lake first and about the time the vessel drove away from the terminal.
Radar shows the first wind gusts arriving at the lake ahead of the storm, at 6:59 p.m., according to the CNN Weather department.
The US Coast Guard said Friday its investigation into the deadly duck boat accident could result in a recommendation to open a criminal investigation. The Coast Guard said it has already conducted numerous interviews with Ride the Duck employees, survivors, eyewitnesses and emergency responders.
The Coast Guard inquiry will determine whether the actions of any person contributed to the deadly event.