Inspector says he warned Ride the Ducks company of safety issues before fatal sinking in Table Rock Lake

STONE COUNTY, Mo. The man who inspected the duck boats involved in Thursday's tragic accident, near Branson, warned the company about the dangers nearly a year ago.

The amphibious vehicle used for visitor tours sunk in Table Rock Lake killing 17 people, nine from the same family.

Steven Paul, owner of Test Drive Technologies was hired by Ripley's Entertainment to inspect the vehicles when they were bought from ride the ducks international. Paul called the boats "a death trap" and would not let his own family ride in them.

"I do know in 1999 with the accident that happened down in Arkansas, the canopy's a big issue, the curtains are a big issue, and they also recommended that the curtains be raised when the duck goes in the water, and obviously that's not the case," he said.

At the time of the Arkansas disaster, then NTSB chairman Jim Hall said, "the bottom line is, why are these boats still being used? These boats were not designed for recreational use, especially with large numbers of people and weather like this."

The NTSB report on the Arkansas case also recommended that canopies on duck boats be removed when they entered the water, but the Coast Guard did not follow that recommendation and in the case of the Branson sinking that killed 17 passengers, the duck boat did have a canopy cover.

"The Miss Majestic event in Arkansas is one that they're probably going to be looking at to try and understand (the Branson accident)," former NTSB chair Deborah Hersman said. "Some of those issues are the same."

They found that canopy on the duck boat (in the Arkansas case) made it harder for people to get out of the sinking boat.

"There's been a lot of criticism of the boats over the years. The design of them goes back to World War II. So I think the investigators will look at that. Any boat operating in those conditions, the margins of safety are eroded. And you don't want to be out in the water particularly with people who can't swim or children in conditions like this," she said.