DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Stone Mountain Park is suspending the use of its fleet of amphibious "duck boats" on the lake at the park, because of the tragedy in Missouri that claimed nearly 20 lives.
A spokesperson for the park said on Friday that its "Ride the Ducks" attraction--which is owned and operated by Stone Mountain Park--had been put on hold until park administrators could gather more information.
The decision comes after the transport, which has wheels but also has a boat-like body, capsized on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri. Of the 31 people aboard, 17 people were killed and others injured.
The land-water vehicles make the news perennially for injuries and even deaths sometimes tied to their design. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the overhead canopies on the boats have contributed to passenger deaths by preventing people from escaping in emergencies.
“Duck boats are death traps,” said Andrew Duffy, an attorney whose law firm Philadelphia law firm handled litigation related to two fatal duck boat accidents there. “They’re not fit for water or land because they are half car and half boat.”
However, a more obvious factor may have been involved in the Thursday the deaths as well - weather. USA TODAY reports that the boat sank in several feet of water after a severe thunderstorm churned up 5-foot waves. The owner of Ride the Ducks in Branson later added in an interview that, in hindsight, the boat shouldn't have been on the water, but he defended not halting the tours. He claimed that the fast-moving storm came out of nowhere.
However, 11Alive meteorologist Wes Peery said it's unlikely that they were unaware of the storm coming in. Peery said that a severe storm watch was in effect 7 hours before the boat capsized. And 30 minutes beforehand, the National Weather Service issued a severe storm warning with predictions of 60-plus mph winds.
Here is the statement that Stone Mountain Park emailed to 11Alive News on Friday:
"All of us at Stone Mountain Park are heartbroken about the accident that happened last evening on Ride the Ducks in Branson, Missouri. Our prayers are with the victims, their families and the team at Ripley Entertainment.
"As always, safety is our top priority here at Stone Mountain Park. Therefore, we have suspended our Ride the Ducks operation until more information about the Branson tragedy becomes available."
William Schmitt and Doug Stanglin with USA TODAY contributed to this report.