BRANSON, Mo. — The country-and-western tourist town of Branson, Missouri, mourned Friday for more than a dozen sightseers who were killed when a duck boat capsized and sank in stormy weather in the deadliest such accident in almost two decades.

Divers found four more bodies in Table Rock Lake, bringing the death toll to 17, including nine people from the same family and the crew member who was driving the amphibious boat. In their initial assessment, authorities blamed thunderstorms and winds that approached hurricane strength.

“Branson is a city full of smiles,” Mayor Karen Best said. “We have so much fun here. But today we are grieving and crying.”

Trisha Ayers was among the mourners who stopped to pay their respects at a parked car that was covered with flowers because it was believed to belong to a dead tourist.

Ayers said she understood how the boat got caught on the lake because the weather Thursday evening changed in 10 minutes from sunshine to gale-force winds that bent traffic signs.

“I hope it won’t tarnish Branson,” she said with tears in her eyes. “About 80 percent of our income comes from tourists. We love them.”

The weather service station in Springfield, about 40 miles north of Branson, issued a severe thunderstorm watch for its immediate area Thursday, saying conditions were ripe for winds of 70 mph.

It followed up at 6:32 p.m. with a severe thunderstorm warning for three counties that included Branson and the lake. The warning mentioned both locations. The boat went down about 40 minutes later, shortly after 7 p.m.

“When we issue a warning, it means take action,” meteorologist Kelsey Angle said.

Suzanne Smagala with Ripley Entertainment, which owns Ride the Ducks in Branson, said the company was assisting authorities. She said this was the company’s only accident in more than 40 years of operation.

Twenty-nine passengers and two crew members were aboard for a pleasure cruise. Seven of the 14 survivors were hurt when the vessel went down. At least two children and two adults were hospitalized. The captain survived, authorities said.

Brayden Malaske, of Harrah, Oklahoma, boarded a replica 19th-century paddle wheeler known as the Branson Belle on the same lake just before the storm hit.

At the time, he said, the water seemed calm, and no one was worried about the weather.

“But it suddenly got very dark,” he recalled.

In a short video taken by Malaske from a dock, the duck boat can be seen wallowing through the choppy, wind-whipped lake, with water only inches from its windows. Dark, rolling waves crash over its front end. The footage ends before the boat capsizes.


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