By Claire Booth
My first novel starts out with a boat crash on Table Rock Lake, near Branson, Missouri. Passengers are stranded and need to be rescued. All of them make it to shore safely.
I wrote that book four years ago, but Thursday part of it became reality. In the worst way possible. An amphibious boat full of tourists sank in a sudden storm on that very lake. Seventeen people drowned, including nine from one family.
|Table Rock Lake in better weather. Table Rock Dam is in the background.|
Hearing that was like a gut punch. I never imagined that the real world would take a set of circumstances I used in fiction and turn it into something unimaginably worse. So now I’m watching and reading the news of this tragedy with an even heavier heart than I normally would. It’s a lot more personal.
I know how quickly storms can strike in the Ozarks. The weather radar can track them coming, but if you’re not paying attention to that, all you see is blue sky until it’s suddenly black and the wind and rain hit in a torrent. Many locals said Thursday’s storm and the waves it generated were the worst they’d ever seen.
I know how Branson very much realizes that tourism is its bread-and-butter, and that people from all over the Midwest flock there for a family-friendly good time. Fishing, hiking, camping, country music shows, go-kart rides, a gigantic Ferris wheel, a water park, Silver Dollar City and its nationally known roller coasters, the Branson Belle showboat.
(In fact, the Belle itself crashed on Table Rock Lake in 2010, running aground and trapping more than 500 passengers on board until a rescue operation could be arranged. That incident – which had no fatalities – inspired my novel’s fictitious boat crash, which set the mystery in motion and resulted in the discovery of the murder that my sheriff character has to solve. To think there has now been another huge accident on the lake is almost unbelievable.)
And I know about the Ride the Ducks amphibious boats. They’re an ubiquitous sight on the streets of Branson as drivers tour past land-based points of interest before they head toward Table Rock Lake and a cruise on the water. Each craft is supposed to carry enough life jackets for every passenger.
On Thursday, none of the people who marina dock hand Todd Lawrence and his co-workers pulled from the water were wearing life jackets, he told the New York Times. A Missouri State Highway Patrol report released Saturday afternoon confirmed that none of the people on board the Duck boat were wearing “safety devices.”
There are many like Lawrence in Branson. People who rush to help, any way they can. Employees of the Belle, which was docked near where the Duck boat went down, jumped into the water and tried to save passengers, according to the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. Private boat owners also plowed through the dangerous waves and pulled unresponsive people out of the water. People converged on City Hall to help survivors and the families of those who died. Hundreds of them attended a vigil.
“We do what Branson does best; we love on everybody. When the families came to City Hall, that was our goal. To make them feel loved, feel comforted,” Branson Mayor Karen Best said on OzarksFirst.com. The whole community was grieving for the victims, she said. “Our hearts are broken.”
Mine is, too.