July 23 (UPI) -- The U.S. Coast Guard on Monday raised an amphibious tour boat that sank in Missouri last week, killing 17 people.
It took Coast Guard crews an hour and a half to lift the vessel known as "duck boat" out of Table Rock Lake near Branson, where it sank Thursday while carrying 31 people.
"They attached a rig sling system to the duck as you can see. Once that was attached and secure they raised the vessel slightly to determine stability," Scott Stroermer of the Coast Guard said, according to Missouri's KOLR-TV. "Once that was complete and the divers were out of the area they raised it to the surface and once it was there they dewatered it and it will be moved to the boat ramp."
The boat sank in rough waters to an area 80 feet deep, Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said. Seventeen passengers, including nine members of the same family, died.
After the boat was safely towed to shore, the Coast Guard determined the cause of the failure was "the rapidly worsening river conditions," but also cited a "failure to anticipate the change in the weather conditions," ABC News reported.
Coast Guard Lt. Tasha Sadowicz said the investigation will focus on the limits on when the boat could enter the water based on wind speed and the height of waves, established during annual inspections.
The investigation also will seek to determine whether the boat captain followed the company's guidelines on the use of life jackets, Coast Guard Capt. Scott Stoermer said.
Tia Coleman, who survived but lost her husband and three children, spoke with news media from her hospital bed. She said the captain of the boat told them they wouldn't need life preservers.
"My husband would want me to say this -- he would want the world to know that on this boat we were on, the captain had told us 'don't worry about grabbing the life jackets -- you won't need them' so nobody grabbed them," Coleman told Fox News. "However, in doing that, when it was time to grab them, it was too late and I believe that a lot of people could have been spared."
The National Transportation Safety Board recommends that passengers not wear life jackets on boats with canopies because when they sink, the life jackets can prevent escape by floating people to the top of the canopy and trapping them underneath.
The Coast Guard requires life jackets on non-canopied boats, but for amphibious tour boats, which are part boat and part bus, recommendations are left up to the captain. The boat that sank was equipped with life vests but passengers were not required to wear them, Rader said.
Removing canopies so passengers could escape easily during an emergency, adding backup buoyancy so boats could stay afloat if flooded and requiring passengers to wear life jackets are recommendations made by the NTSB 20 years ago to tourist "duck boats."
Reports of the 1999 NTSB findings have resurfaced since the sinking of the "Ride the Ducks" boat in Branson on Thursday.
The NTSB is investigating the incident, questioning everything from the weather to the life jacket situation, to the actions of the crew. The probe could take up to one year. State investigators also were attempting to determine why the boat changed its usual route on Thursday.
The agency spelled out additional relevant safety measures in an accident report when the duck boat Miss Majestic sank in 1999 during a tour of Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs, Ark. Thirteen of the 21 passengers on board died, including three children.
"If the vehicle had not had a canopy, the passengers would not have had a barrier to vertical escape. They would not have been trapped inside the vehicle, and fewer passengers might have been killed," the report said. "The canopy on the Miss Majestic was a major impediment to the survival of the passengers."
The report also said the crew did not require life jackets to be worn and did not demonstrate how to don one if needed. It added that passengers were not given instructions on what to do if the boat starts to sink.