Local boat company describes salvaging duck boat

SHELL KNOB, Mo. We are learning more about what it took to pull a doomed duck boat from the bottom of Table Rock Lake in Branson.

The Stretch 7 boat was raised to the surface Monday after sinking last Thursday. Seventeen people drowned.

To retrieve the boat, Law Enforcement and the Coast Guard tapped the resources of a salvage company located right here in the Ozarks.

Fitzco Marine Group got the call to help with the salvage operation the day after the deadly boat accident. They managed to get additional equipment from Louisiana and Arkansas in just a matter of days. Instead of rigging the barge at the company's base in Shell Knob then making the 8 hour trip through the lake, they put it together at the State Park Marina. This saved investigators valuable time.

"It's definitely a combined effort and a lot of coordination," says Fitzco Marine Group owner, Mike Fitzpatrick.

The operation started with an impressive parade of equipment needed to pull the Ride the Ducks Boat wreckage out of the bottom of Table Rock Lake. That was just the beginning.

For crews, another challenge was getting the barge on the water and positioned just right near the sunken boat.

"We have to use the human factor and just try to judge prop thrust and prop direction to try to hold it in place," said Fitzpatrick.

The massive metal island is not only heavy but packs a lot of power.

The wench and cables hooked up to a crane can lift 100,000 pounds of weight out of the water.

Fitzpatrick said, "The danger is for the people in the water."

He said there are a lot of variables to consider when performing this type of operation. Diver safety is the most important.

"Visibility, depth, how heavy things are to move around in the water. There's a lot of resistance, to drag a chain or drag a cable or to drag rigging under water, to be a commercial diver you have to be cognizant of everything around you. Even stuff you can't see," he said.

He said Missouri Highway Patrol divers had a small window of time to hook the duck boat up to the crane.

"They had an 81 minute window from the time they first got into the water and went under to the time the time they got out of the water. They have to factor in decompression time on their way up," explained Fitzpatrick.

Crews had little room for error.

"If a big wake came by or a big wind came up all of the sudden and we couldn't hold it still and they had a hold of some of the rigging then maybe a hand or an arm could have mashed. Or worse, much worse," said Fitzpatrick.

The salvage operation was successfully finished within three hours.

"I can't remember anything like this," he said.

He, like many others, hope this is the first and last time he has to perform a salvage operation like this.

"It was just really sad. I hate to say anymore because it is so sad. It's dangerous in the water," said Fitzpatrick.

Fitzco Marine Group usually only does about 5 of these large salvage missions a year. The company also has an even bigger rig that can lift just about any vessel, except for the Branson Bell, safely out of Table Rock Lake.