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Ride the Ducks in Branson won't operate in 2019; new venue planned

Duck boat case referred to federal prosecutors
Posted at 10:44 AM, Mar 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-21 13:02:16-04

BRANSON, Mo. (AP) — The company that owns a duck boat that sank on a Missouri lake last year, killing 17 people, won't operate the vessels this year and will instead open a replacement attraction in Branson.

Ripley Entertainment spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala-Potts announced plans for the new attraction, called Branson Top Op, on Thursday. She declined to comment on whether the boats would ever float again on Table Rock Lack, saying only that the company is focused on 2019 and hasn't "looked in the future of what we may or may not do."

The entertainment venue will include indoor laser tag and an interactive outdoor maze. It's expected to open for Memorial Day weekend.

Smagala-Potts said 10 percent of this year's proceeds, with a minimum amount of $100,000, will be donated to local first responders, such as police and firefighters.

"Branson thrives on tourism, so we want to make sure we continue to give back to the community," Smagala-Potts said.

For nearly 50 years, tourists have toured the Branson area on refurbished amphibious vessel originally used by the military during World War II, with Ripley purchasing the duck boats in 2017. The company suspended operations after one sank during a storm in July. Those killed were from Missouri, Indiana, Illinois and Arkansas.

The company faces several lawsuits alleging that it launched the doomed boat despite warnings of severe weather.

The boat's captain was indicted on 17 counts accusing him of failing to tell passengers to put on flotation devices or prepare them to abandon ship even after waves crashed into the boat.

Smagala-Potts said the company is pursuing mediation with the families.

"We want to do the right thing for the families and the community," she added.