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Man who tried to save drowning tourists on duck boat ride sues

A southwest Missouri man who attempted to save drowning passengers from a sinking Duck Boat last month is suing the company and the pilot for emotional distress. (File)

A man who was on a nearby boat and tried to save drowning victims when a "Duck Boat" carrying passengers sank near Table Rock Dam in July is suing the tour company and the captain of the doomed vessel.

Gregory Harris of Verona was an employee of the Branson Belle, another excursion boat that was on the water near the scene, and jumped into the swell to attempt to save people who were thrown from the Duck Boat.

Harris's civil suit, which asked for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, claimed that the boat company and the captain of the boat in question were negligent in taking to the water knowing a storm was on the way and that the boats were unstable in the water.

Harris's lawsuit said he immediately jumped in the water on the evening of July 19 to save people from drowning. In the process, he argued that he was physically and emotionally injured due to the negligence of the defendants. He said he suffers anxiety, a loss of enjoyment of life, nightmares, and post-traumatic stress.

He has quit his job and is claiming an impaired ability and diminished capacity for work.

Critics said the boats are unsafe on land and water. A 2010 collision between a stalled duck boat in the Delaware River and a barge killed two tourists; a 2015 accident with a bus killed five in Seattle, and a 2013 Duck boat sinking near Hot Springs, Ark., killed 13, according to the Boston Globe.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board in its analysis of the Hot Springs sinking, the agency determined that when sinking, the boats tend to take on water rapidly and the canopies used to shield passengers from the elements make it hard for them to escape in the confusion of an emergency.

On land, the two-ton vehicles have been criticized for a lack of sightlines by the driver, who sits 10 to 12 feet behind and above the front of the vehicle, severely limiting visibility.

The NSTB recommended in its 1999 report that operators provide reserve buoyancy through passive means, such as watertight compartments, built-in flotation, or equivalent measures, so the boats will remain afloat and upright in the event of flooding, even with a full load of passengers.

No court date has been set for Harris' lawsuit.

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