Company won’t operate duck boats in 2019 after fatal sinking

A man looks at an idled duck boat in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks Saturday, July 21, 2018 in Branson, Mo. One of the company’s duck boats capsized Thursday night resulting in several deaths on Table Rock Lake. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The company that owns a duck boat that sank on a Missouri lake last summer, killing 17 people, announced Thursday that it won’t operate the vessels this year because of the ongoing investigation and will instead open a replacement attraction in the tourist town of Branson.

Ripley Entertainment Inc. spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala-Potts declined to comment on whether the boats would ever float again on Table Rock Lake, saying that the company is focused on 2019 and hasn’t “looked in the future of what we may or may not do.”

The new attraction, called Branson Top Ops, will include indoor laser tag, an interactive outdoor maze with barriers, and a tower. She said work would begin soon and that the venue is expected to open for Memorial Day weekend. She said 10 percent of this year’s proceeds, with a minimum amount of $100,000, will be donated to local first responders, such as police and firefighters.

“Branson thrives on tourism, so we want to make sure we continue to give back to the community,” Smagala-Potts said.

For nearly 50 years, tourists have toured the Branson area on refurbished amphibious vessel originally used by the military during World War II, with Ripley purchasing the duck boats in 2017. The company suspended operations after one sank during a storm in July. Those killed were from Missouri, Indiana, Illinois and Arkansas.

Orlando, Florida-based Ripley faces several lawsuits alleging that it launched the doomed boat despite warnings of severe weather. The boat’s captain was indicted on 17 counts accusing him of failing to tell passengers to put on flotation devices or prepare them to abandon ship even after waves crashed into the boat. Ripley does not have duck boats anywhere else.

Smagala-Potts said the company is pursuing mediation with the families.

“We want to do the right thing for the families and the community,” she added.

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