AILSA CHANG, HOST:
On Table Rock Lake near Branson, Mo., divers have recovered the bodies of 17 passengers who died after their amphibious duck boat capsized and sank in a storm last night. State officials say nine of those people came just from one family. As investigators begin to piece together exactly what went wrong, focus has turned to the safety of these popular tourism boats. We begin with Jennifer Moore of KSMU Ozarks Public Radio. She's at Branson's city hall now. It's opened its doors to survivors and family members of those who drowned. Hi, Jennifer.
JENNIFER MOORE, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: Very quickly, can you just first describe what a duck boat is?
MOORE: Yes. A duck boat is an amphibious vessel. It's not a very big boat. And these boats were originally used by the U.S. military in World War II, but many have been repurposed for tourist rides. And they're very popular here in the Ozarks.
CHANG: Tell us what happened last night.
MOORE: Well, this particular duck boat set out on the waters of one of the region's largest lakes here in the Ozarks before it got into some serious trouble with a severe thunderstorm. There wasn't a whole lot of rain, but the wind was tremendous. There were two duck boats in the water. Both really struggled against some powerful waves, and one made it back to shore. But the other one with ultimately 31 people aboard it ultimately went under.
CHANG: And I understand a number of witnesses were watching this as it was all happening.
MOORE: That's right. There was a much larger paddle wheel boat that was next to it. And when this storm rolled in, several of the people on that larger boat responded in a big way. We're hearing some pretty valiant stories coming out of that scene. For example, an off-duty sheriff's deputy who was on that larger boat jumped overboard and began swimming survivors to safety.
Some of the survivors were actually brought here to Branson City Hall, and I spoke with Melody Pettit earlier today. She's a spokeswoman for the city of Branson. And she told me about a young survivor who came here immediately after that boat sank.
MELODY PETTIT: A counselor was talking to a young man, and the counselor noticed that his socks were wet still from the incident. And this counselor took the young man's socks off, took him to the bathroom and dried them at the hand blow dryer and made sure that this young man had some dry socks.
CHANG: Now officials are saying the weather played a real role in this tragedy. You mentioned the storm was pretty big. Can you give us a little more details about what happened during the storm?
MOORE: Sure. I was in the newsroom last night in Springfield just up the road when our weather alert radio began going off. That was still in the 5 o'clock hour locally when the storm system was several counties north of the Branson area. And it came from an unusual direction for our region. It came from the north, northwest. It was not a small pop-up shower. But at the same time, this large storm did move in very quickly.
The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning at 6:32 last night for Stone County and Table Rock Lake, and the sheriff says those first distress calls came in just over half an hour later. And soon after that call, local fire departments sent their divers and a couple of boats into the water. That was the West Taney County Fire District. And their chief is Chris Berndt.
CHRIS BERNDT: We put divers in the water to search that general area of where people have told us that the duck went down. At that point, it was getting dark. And it's pretty dangerous to dive in the dark, so we limited the areas that we would allow our divers to go down.
CHANG: That's Fire Chief Chris Berndt. Our conversation was with Jennifer Moore with KSMU Ozarks Public Radio. Thank you, Jennifer.
MOORE: Thank you, Ailsa.
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