In the immediate aftermath of the duck boat tragedy on Table Rock Lake Thursday night, many have wondered whether the canopies attached to these vehicles play a role in this type of incident.
Andrew Duffy is an attorney whose firm represented victims of a deadly 2010 duck boat crash in Philadelphia.
He and other lawyers with his firm have called duck boats “death traps” and called for them to be banned.
“When (duck boats) are on the water they have well-cited issues with buoyancy that the National Transportation Safety Board pointed out in 1999, over 18 years ago,” Duffy told the News-Leader Friday morning, referring to a federal government report that followed an incident on Lake Hamilton, Arkansas, in which 13 of 21 passengers aboard the Miss Majestic duck boat drowned.
He added, “They sit low in the water, they are highly susceptible to flooding. Once they flood, they have a fixed canopy on top.
“The canopy was cited by the NTSB as being an extreme defect in that when people are wearing life jackets, which they should, especially in the seas you saw yesterday, when the boat starts to sink, these (boats) are prone to sink quickly.
“People get trapped in the canopy, the life jackets force them up but the canopy pulls them down. These canopies, since 1999 NTSB said they should be taken off the duck boats.”
“It’s a Hobson’s choice (a choice of taking what is available or nothing at all),” Duffy said. “You want to wear a life jacket, but at the same time, you have greater survivability without the life jacket, combined with the canopy.
“What I know from the Philadelphia case, the life jackets were strapped to the ceiling. They are divided into adult and children’s life jackets. There was a mad panic and scramble in Philadelphia to get to those life jackets and get them on.
“I imagine in this case, with high winds and high seas, it would be unconscionable if the captain didn’t tell them to don life jackets when they were trying to get back to port.”
The Stone County sheriff said at a Friday morning press conference that it was not clear from video taken of the boat before it capsized whether the windows were open.
Duffy said duck boat windows are also problematic.
“You have a canopy on top and heavy cellophane on the side meant for rain and wind protection. When you have a quickly sinking vessel and panic to try to get to the surface, then those windows – as soon as water is on both sides of them, it adds to the inability to escape the compartment of the vessel,” he said.
After viewing video of the Thursday night incident on Table Rock Lake, Duffy said, “we don’t know if those (windows) were zippered, or if they were flaps that came down. They looked like heavy cellophane weather protectors. Those could absolutely play a factor in escapability.”
“Duck boats are so dangerous,” Duffy said. “They are neither a car, nor a boat. They are half of each. Because of that, they don’t have the full safety features of a boat. They don’t have the safety features of a car.”
“We’ve had disaster after disaster now,” Duffy said, citing the 1999 Arkansas tragedy and incidents in Quebec, Seattle, Boston and Philadelphia. “It’s time to fully ban these death traps. It is outrageous that this industry caters to children and families, and yet the industry is well aware of past disasters and they have done nothing, and loved ones have to continue to die.”