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Nine killed in US duck boat accident were from same family

Mourners comfort each other in the wake of the tragedy. Photo: AP/Press Association Images

Nine of the tourists who died in a duck boat accident in the US were from the same family, it has emerged.

The tourist town of Branson in Missouri remained in mourning on Saturday for sightseers killed when their boat capsized and sank in stormy weather in the deadliest such accident in almost two decades.

Following tireless work, divers discovered four more bodies in Table Rock Lake on Friday, including the boat's captain, a day after the deadly incident.

In their initial assessment, authorities blamed thunderstorms and winds that approached hurricane strength, but an investigation is continuing.

On Friday evening, vigils were held by the grief-stricken community, including one memorial where about 300 people gathered in the car park of the Ride the Ducks boat company.

Despite the early blame attached to the weather, it remains unclear why the amphibious vehicle even ventured out into the water.

Officials have not released the names of the victims, but details are continuing to emerge.

Among them were a popular duck boat driver, a father and son visiting from Arkansas, and nine relatives from Indiana, many of them children, who were on the ill-fated boat only because of a mix-up.

The risk of heavy weather was apparent hours before the boat left shore.

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

It followed up at 6.32pm 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 7pm local time.

Around 300 mourners gathered at one vigil. Credit: AP
A candlelight vigil was held on Friday evening in memory of the victims. Credit: PA

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

A full investigation was underway, with help from the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board. Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader urged anyone with video or photos of the accident to contact authorities.

At the rally at the duck boat business, the Reverend Zachary Klein said he had no words of comfort to offer the families of victims “because there simply are no words to comfort them”.

Suzanne Smagala, of 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 still in hospital on Friday afternoon. The captain survived, authorities said.

Emergency workers patrol an area near where a duck boat capsized Credit: AP

Among the injured was 14-year-old Loren Smith of Osceola, Arkansas. Her father, 53-year-old retired maths teacher Steve Smith, and her 15-year-old brother, Lance, died in the accident. Loren suffered concussion but survived.

“It’s a hard thing,” Mr Smith’s father, Carroll Smith, said of losing his only child and his only grandson. “It’s a very difficult day.”

Tracy Beck, of Kansas City, Missouri, said she recalled the family who lost nine members waiting in line and blamed a possible ticket mix-up for them ending up on the ill-fated boat. She said the ticket taker realised after they stopped for a photo that they should have boarded at a different location and assigned them new tickets.

A Ride The Ducks tour boat sits idle in a car park. Credit: AP