Chicago (AFP) - A US grand jury on Thursday indicted the captain of a boat that sank in a Missouri lake during a summer thunderstorm, killing 17 people on board.
The vessel known as a "duck boat" went down July 19 on Table Rock Lake near the city of Branson. The amphibious vehicle, which can drive on land and float in water, carried 29 passengers and two crew.
A federal grand jury charged Kenneth Scott McKee with 17 counts of misconduct, negligence, or inattention to duty that led to passengers' deaths.
The charges are colloquially known as "seaman's manslaughter," US Attorney Tim Garrison told a news conference.
"Each of the counts in this indictment represents a life that was lost when Stretch Duck Seven sank," Garrison said.
The indictment alleges McKee failed to properly assess incoming severe weather and allowed the boat's side curtains to be lowered, which allegedly trapped passengers inside.
"Further, he failed to instruct his passengers to don their personal floatation devices during the severe weather," Garrison said.
The boat sank while struggling to reach shore against strong winds and high waves. The accident occurred in full view of witnesses at the lake shore, which is a popular tourist draw.
A witness video showed the vessel bobbing in rough waters and eventually succumbing. A second boat made it to shore.
Survivor Tia Coleman, who lost nine family members in the disaster, had said the captain told his charges, when the boat was already in the water, that they "won't need" life jackets.
"When it was time to grab them, it was too late and I believe that a lot of people could have been spared," she told Fox59 TV.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigated the incident, the captain had conducted a safety briefing before the boat entering the water, demonstrating how to use the life jacket and pointing out their location.
The hybrid duck boats are popular with tourists but have been involved in previous fatal accidents.
In 2002, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that the vessels provide "reserve buoyancy" such as through watertight compartmentalization, to keep them afloat in the event of flooding.
The advisory followed the 1999 sinking of the Miss Majestic with the loss of 13 lives in Hot Springs, Arkansas, because of "inadequate maintenance," the NTSB said.