Survivor who lost family in Branson Duck tour tragedy calls for a nationwide ban

Tia Coleman lost her husband, their three kids and five more family members July 19th when a Ride the Ducks tour boat sank in a Branson, Missouri, storm. In all, 17 people on the Duck have died. The scale of her loss is unimaginable.

Now she is calling on the Federal government to ban the amphibious vehicles nationwide if they can’t be designed to be safe, something that should have happened long before July 19, 2018. You can sign her petition online.

But why were Duck boats still operating anywhere in our nation after one killed five people and injured a shocking 69 others in a single 2015 collision on the Aurora Bridge? The carnage total of that one Seattle collision was so overwhelming that it made up a full quarter of all traffic deaths on city-operated streets that entire year (does not include state-run I-5).

How did we not ban them immediately back in 2015? We should have. The Duck that killed Coleman’s family should not have been operating this summer. We cannot make that mistake again.

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) has introduced Senate Bill 3301, which would ban amphibious tour vehicles that can’t meet more stringent safety guidelines, like having a back-up way of staying buoyant in case of flooding so that they don’t sink like a rock to the bottom with a vehicle full of trapped passengers. The bill mostly focuses on water safety, with road safety requirements notably absent. Perhaps those are amendments Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell could add.

Ride the Ducks Seattle, which shares branding and basic vehicle design with the Branson operation but is a separate company, said in a statement that their vehicles do meet the requirements outlined in the proposed bill except for elements they say may conflict with Coast Guard requirements:

At Ride the Ducks Seattle, we support any measures that will make amphibious tour boats safer. We applaud the intent of this bill, and we already have the vast majority of recommendations in place at our operation. Where there are any deviations from the proposal, it’s because we strictly adhere to the safety requirements and recommendations of the United States Coast Guard.

Our vessels absolutely meet all current United States Coast Guard (USCG) requirements for buoyancy, including watertight compartmentalization. Our understanding is that some of the bill’s other proposals conflict with current USCG regulations, which will need to be resolved if the bill passes. Regardless, we will continue to follow safety regulations stipulated by USCG.

But these reclaimed military DUKW amphibious vehicles have proven tragically unsafe on both our waterways and our roads. The one in Branson did not have back-up flotation for when it started taking on water, which is an obvious need that Ride the Ducks Seattle claims to already have. But the vehicles also have long, high-up front ends with no crumple zone. So when they collide on land, the front end both blocks the driver’s view of people walking or riding small vehicles and acts as a devastating weapon against big vehicles. When the Duck collided with that charter bus on the Aurora Bridge, the long and high front end cut straight through the side of the bus and mangled the bodies of its occupants. The axle may have caused the collision, but the front end design is why the casualty toll was so high.

Image from the NTSB report shows how the Duck’s front end tore into the bus (PDF).

Malfunctions and mistakes can happen with any vehicle or by any operator. Safe design, whether it’s a street or a product, does everything it can to minimize or eliminate harm when things do go wrong. But when things go wrong with Duck vehicles, whether on land or water, they go extremely and horrifically wrong. That’s the definition of unsafe design.

Seattle and Branson are far from the only tragedies these tour boats have caused (reading the Duck tour Wikipedia page is truly horrifying):

  • 13 killed in 1999 when a DUKW tour boat sank in Arkansas.
  • 4 killed in 2002 by an amphibious truck conversion in Ontario.
  • 2 killed in 2010 when an inattentive tug boat operator ran over a disabled Duck tour in Philidelphia.
  • A man was critically injured in downtown Seattle in 2011 when a Duck failed to see him over its long front end and ran over  him and his motorcycle.
  • A woman was killed in 2014 while crossing a Philadelphia street, and a lawsuit blamed the vehicle’s long front end for obscuring the driver’s view.
  • 5 killed, 8 critically injured and 8 seriously injured in 2015 on the Aurora Bridge.
  • A woman killed and man injured in 2016 when a Boston-area Duck struck them on their scooter because the long front end prevented the driver from seeing them (page 33 of this PDF).
  • 17 killed and 18 injured in 2018 in Branson.

That’s at least 43 people killed and many more than that with serious and lifelong injuries. No novelty tourism experience is worth this much carnage and this many mass casualty events.

Ride the Ducks can still operate land and sea tours by driving road-ready vehicles on land and transferring to water-ready vessels for water. Sure, that might cramp their style, but so what? They should have voluntarily shut down their amphibious tours after the 2015 tragedy like their Philadelphia counterparts. But they didn’t, so now government needs to make the decision for them.

Every time I see a Duck go by (or desperately try to stay far enough ahead of them on the Fremont Bridge approaches to make sure they can see me over their huge front ends), I am shocked they are still running. It’s a regular reminder of how we failed as a society to curtail even the most obvious road safety danger.

While Washington’s delegation to DC should support and strengthen 3301, our state and city should not wait for the Federal government to act. And we definitely should not wait for the next tragedy. While Tia Coleman is supporting 3301, she doesn’t mince words about what she wants from it: “Ban the Duck boats NOW!”

Below is Coleman’s plea from her petition to ban the Ducks nationwide:

The duck boat took my family from me.

On July 19th, my husband, Glenn, 40, and our babies Arya, 1, Evan, 7, and Reece, 9, drowned in a totally preventable disaster on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri. Altogether, seventeen souls, including my other Coleman family members – Horace “Butch” Coleman, 70, Belinda “Toni” Coleman, 69, Ervin “Uncle Ray” Coleman, 76, Angiee Coleman, 45 and her baby, Maxwell 2, were killed.. They all died because of the duck boat’s deadly design, which the industry knew about for more than 16 years. In 2002, the National Transportation Safety Board told the duck boat operators to make them safe.

They didn’t.

I miraculously survived, along with my 13-year-old nephew, Donovan.  So many loved ones died that tragic day, but not my spirit. In their memory, I am asking you to join me to help ensure that no one else is killed by death trap duck boats.

Help us ban all unsafe amphibious vehicles like the one that killed my family and dozens more over the past 20 years.  In addition to signing this petition, it’s also important to support Senate Bill 3301 Duck Boat Bill that will force the reckless and deceitful duck boat industry to comply with safety recommendations that it has ignored for decades. Ban the duck boats NOW!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Love,
Tia Coleman

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9 Responses to Survivor who lost family in Branson Duck tour tragedy calls for a nationwide ban

  1. Stephen says:

    Wikipedia lists an even longer list of casualties, including a woman in Ketchikan who was run over as a duck boat was backing up:
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duck_tour#Incidents

  2. AW says:

    Another truly disgusting fact is that there were no real consequences against Ride the Ducks Seattle because of the crash other than fines of a few hundred thousand dollars, some of which were eventually lowered. They knew about the problems with the axle way back in 2003 and then ignored an urgent bulletin in 2013. The company ran tours on vehicles that they knew were unsafe.

    Regardless of how you feel about the vehicles, at the very least the company should have gone bankrupt and the owners and maintenance managers been arrested for manslaughter.

  3. Bryan Willman says:

    You all realize these DUK boats are all WWII (or maybe slightly after) military landing craft, strictly designed to prevail in the circumstances of war? Think D-day – literally….

    If mixed land/water tour vehicles have so much economic value, why haven’t any new ones been produced in the 70 or so years in between?

    Retire these things to the collectors and museums….

    • Matthew Snyder says:

      No, that’s not correct. I mean, look, I hate the Ducks as much as the next guy, but it’s not accurate to say that no new ones have been produced in the last 70 years. This company would be happy to sell you a new one today. Here’s another option.

      The Ducks that operate in various places around the US are a mix of old WW2-era vehicles, rebuilt WW2 vehicles (basically using the original chassis and updating everything else), and newer “truck duck” construction, depending on the city and operator. According to the NTSB report, the Seattle Ducks are now using only the “new” vehicles in their fleet — although, to be fair, it’s actually somewhat hard to tell whether the entire vehicle is new or whether some older components are reused. The Coast Guard considers them to be new construction, anyway.

      • Bryan Willman says:

        Point Taken.

        But the issues of having the things be seaworthy and road worth remain (which most everybody seems to agree with.)

  4. Conrad says:

    Im not in love with the ducks, but at least there are ostensibly professional drivers behind the wheel. Its not as if they are the only large dangerous vehicles on the road. Personally I’m having way more trouble with distracted and/or entitled morons that feel I don’t belong on the road. How many people have they killed lately.

  5. Ben P says:

    They could have ducks which look the same but are road safe. Make the nose out of something that will crumple properly in a collision and put cameras in all the blind spots

  6. Azimuth says:

    The Aurora Bridge is still a death trap, Duck or no Duck.

  7. ronp says:

    The ducks suck monkey balls and should be banned ASAP. Too bad for the owners — if they want to build and deploy a safe vehicle they can. NTSB where are you?!?!

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