Just Ducky Tours to retool for 2019 season after closing early this year
A co-owner of Just Ducky Tours said his company is paying the price for other companies with shoddy safety records.
Just Ducky Tours canceled the rest of its season this week, ending land and water tours of Pittsburgh three months early.
Declining sales in the wake of the deadly duck boat sinking in Missouri and construction near Station Square prompted Pittsburgh’s Just Ducky Tours to close early this year, owners Chris D’Addario and Michael Cohen said Wednesday.
D’Addario took aim at other duck boat companies with accident records, saying they are the problem and pointing to Just Ducky’s clean records and two million riders over more than two decades.
“(It) appears that they are bad operators, and the rest of us are paying the price,” D’Addario said.
The cancellation comes as Cohen and D’Addario “retool for the 2019 season,” according to a statement released by the company. The season normally would run through the end of November.
Seventeen people died in Table Rock Lake on July 19 when one of Ride the Ducks’ amphibious vehicles sank in high winds and stormy conditions. On Aug. 5, a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed near Station Square, causing weeks of cleanup that shut down the Station Square T station and left one lane of East Carson Street closed through the area.
D’Addario called it “understandable” that some might be hesitant to ride a duck boat after the deaths in Branson, but said he stands by the “flawless safety record over 21 years.”
He said his company has canceled hundreds of tours when their safety could have been in jeopardy, including during storms and poor river conditions.
Much of the statement from D’Addario and Cohen focused on why Just Ducky boats are safer than those used in Branson, including the fact that the bodies of Pittsburgh’s boats are not modified and have canopies and side curtains “designed specifically for easy exit in the event of an emergency.”
The canopies of the land- and water-enabled vessels were cited in a 2002 National Transportation Safety Board report that followed the 1999 sinking of Miss Majestic, an Arkansas duck boat that sank in Lake Hamilton, killing 13.
Investigators who recovered the Miss Majestic found seven dead passengers still inside — four of them pinned against the underside of the canopy roof, according to the NTSB report. Just Ducky Tours was cited in the NTSB report as a company using the dangerous canopies.
Last week, the Missouri Attorney General filed a civil lawsuit accusing the Branson operator, owned by Ripley Entertainment, of operating its duck boards in spite of knowing about the design problems.
On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal published a story in which D’Addario said that his sales were down by a quarter to one-third since the Missouri fatalities.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.