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Trying to make sense out of a tragedy

By Debbie Leffler • Jul 26, 2018 at 12:00 PM

How can you get on a “duck boat” and end up dead?

The irony of this situation in Branson, Mo., has been upsetting me ever since I read of the disaster that happened recently there. Thirty-one passengers — couples, families, a father-son pair — got on the “duck boat” for what should have been a pleasurable tour. Instead, the boat sank and 17 of them died.

The duck boat — aka the Ride the Ducks tour boat — is an “amphibious vehicle” which travels on wheels by land and then also serves as a boat in the water. Tourists go on these “duck boats” — which exist in a variety of cities — where there is a narrated tour of the city both by sea and by water. It is just a touristy thing to do. The person who leads the Duck Boat tour in Boston is called the “con-DUCK-tor.”

But on this particular occasion in Branson there was a storm. The accident still is being investigated, but reports are that none of the passengers were wearing a life jacket — supposedly during the safety speech at the beginning of the ride, the conductor (ironically) said “Here are the life jackets, but you won’t need them.”

I keep reading the stories about this disaster. I know it’s not the Titanic, but along the same lines, it’s supposed to be a safe, fun thing to do and it ended in horror and death.

How do you know, when you take a Duck Boat tour, that it could end in death? How do you know that you are safe any time you step outside your door? We drove all the way from Norwalk to New Orleans to Dallas and back last month and arrived here safely. Someone takes a Duck Boat in Branson and ends up dead. Why? Does any of this make sense?

A few of the stories I have read about the Duck Boat incident stick in my mind. A grandmother saved her granddaughter’s life by pushing her up to where she could get out of the boat. The grandmother died. A father was found dead with his three small children in his arms whom he was trying to save. All died.

Does this make sense? Any of it? People thinking they are on vacation, spending some special time with each other on a simple Duck Boat — and the boat sinks and they drown?

When my brother was between jobs, my sister humorously suggested that he should apply to be a Duck Boat tour guide — he is a great speaker and likes to meet new people. Not so funny anymore.

The boat’s captain apparently decided to do the water portion of the tour before the land portion, maybe to avoid being caught in the impending storm. Who knows? The boat has been recovered from the bottom of the lake but the investigation of the cause of the disaster may take a while. One theory is that when water gets into the boat’s exhaust pipe, the engine will stop. I have read that this sort of boat is difficult to escape from when it is sinking.

But my question is not about the physical aspects of the boat. It is why these particular people were the ones who got on that boat on that day and why were they singled out to die. I’d like to think that the world makes sense, that the good are rewarded and the bad are punished. I have to admit that when I’m on a plane and we encounter turbulence and the plane is bouncing around and I get scared, I look around at the babies on the plane and the kind-looking people and I think to myself that obviously this plane will not crash with all these innocent babies and mothers on board.

Wrong. There are no guarantees and I don’t think whether we live or die is based on our moral or immoral behavior.

Planes crash. Duck boats sink. People drown. We drive 2,000 miles and arrive home unscathed. It doesn’t make sense. Still, I think I will take a pass on riding on a Duck Boat next time I am in a city that offers that as a tourist attraction.

Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at [email protected]

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