A Ride the Ducks tourist boat sank while carrying 31 people on Thursday evening in Branson, Missouri. Authorities say 13 at least passengers were killed in the tragedy, with several others still hospitalized or missing.
Strong winds were reported in the area around 7 p. m. Central Time, and investigators believe the storm may have been what caused the boat to capsize on Table Rock Lake around that time.
Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said that an off-duty deputy from his department happened to be at the scene of the accident when it occurred and helped rescue passengers. Seven people were taken to the hospital immediately following the incident, while dive teams from Western Taney County and the Missouri State Highway Patrol worked on recovery efforts late into the evening.
As the search resumed Friday morning, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson told CNN, "There are still people in the water."
The deceased are believed to have drowned, according to Rader, who reported that life jackets were available on the vessel — but was unable to confirm whether or not those aboard were wearing floatation devices. Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Jason Pace said that the age of the victims range from 1 to 70 years old.
Ride the Ducks provides tours of several US cities with amphibious vehicles designed to operate on both land and water. According to its website, Ride the Ducks Branson has closed while investigations are conducted into Thursday's accident.
"This incident has deeply affected all of us. Words cannot convey how profoundly our hearts are breaking," the posted statement read.
Parent company Ripley Entertainment said they had recently purchased the boat that sank. President Jim Pattison Jr. told CNN that the storm that hit while the vessel was on the water "came out of nowhere."
He said, "My understanding was that when the boat went into the water, it was calm. And partway through coming back is when...the waves picked up and then obviously swamped the boat."
Amphibious vehicles have been used in the tourist industry for roughly 50 years, after they were originally developed for transporting soldiers during World War II. But the accident in Branson is drawing attention to the safety of the vessels, as dozens of people have been killed in multiple accidents just over the past two decades.
The United States Coast guard is conducting an investigation into what happened on Table Rock Lake.