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Inspector warned duck boat company of design flaws last year

A private inspector said Saturday that he warned the company operating duck boats on a Missouri lake about design flaws putting the watercraft at greater risk of sinking, less than a year before the accident that killed 17 people during a sudden storm.

Steve Paul, owner of the Test Drive Technologies inspection service in the St. Louis area, said he issued a written report for the company in August 2017. It explained why the boats' engines — and pumps that remove water from their hulls — might fail in inclement weather.

He also told The Associated Press that the tourist boats' canopies make them hard to escape when they sink — a concern raised by regulators after a similar sinking in Arkansas killed 13 people in 1999.

The accident Thursday evening on Table Rock Lake outside the tourist town of Branson also is raising questions about whether storm warnings in the area went unheeded and whether any agency can keep boaters off the water when inclement weather approaches.

"If you have the information that you could have rough waters or a storm coming, why ever put a boat on that water?" Paul said.

A witness' video of the duck boat just before it capsized suggests that its flexible plastic windows might have been closed and could have trapped passengers as the hybrid boat-truck went down. It does not show passengers jumping clear.

"The biggest problem with a duck when it sinks is that canopy," Paul said. "That canopy becomes what I'll call a people catcher, and people can't get out from under that canopy."

A spokeswoman for Ripley Entertainment, the company operating the duck boats in Branson, did not respond Saturday to telephone and email messages seeking comment. Spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala has noted that Thursday's accident was the only one in more than 40 years of operation.

An archived version of Ripley's website said it operates 20 duck boats in Branson and described them as "built from the ground up under United States Coast Guard (USCG) supervision with the latest in marine safety."

In central Wisconsin, Original Wisconsin Ducks in the Dells has no plans to change how it operates after 73 years of safe rides, general manager Dan Gavinski said. But his company operates World War II-vintage boats, not the modified modern version.

Since 1999, duck boats have been linked to the deaths of more than 40 people, with a troubled safety record on the road and water alike. Their height can obscure cars, pedestrians or bicycles from a driver's view, and maintenance problems can be severe.

Paul said he won't know until the boat that sand is recovered from the lake whether it's one of the two dozen he inspected for Ripley Entertainment in August 2017.

The U.S. Coast Guard said the boat that sank was built in 1944 and had passed an inspection in February, The Kansas City Star reported . But Paul said the boat would have been heavily modified to make it longer so that only part of it dates to World War II. He said it would still have the design flaw he identified in his report.

He declined to share a copy of his report with The Associated Press but said he said he is willing to make it available to authorities.

"I'm sure eventually it will be subpoenaed," he said.

Paul said the duck boats he inspected — which the company had just purchased or repaired — vented exhaust from the motor out front and below the water line. He said in rough conditions, water could get into the exhaust system, and then into the motor, cutting it off. With the motor off, he said, its pump for removing water from the hull would not operate.

"If you watch that video, that water is definitely being slammed up into that exhaust without a doubt," Paul said.

After the deadly sinking in Arkansas in 1999, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended doing away with the canopies and adding more floatation capacity so duck boats could remain upright and keep floating even if they took on water.

The industry took little heed, said Robert Mongeluzzi, a Philadelphia attorney who has represented victims of duck boat crashes. The canopies can protect customers from rain or sun, he noted, and closed windows allow companies to heat the cabins, extending operating hours.

The NTSB called the industry's response to the recommendations disappointing, saying companies cited the cost of engineering and installing additional flotation capacity as prohibitive.

"The duck boat is notoriously unstable and unsuited for what they were attempting to do with it," said Daniel Rose, an attorney whose New York-based law firm has represented victims in several accidents. "It tries to be a boat and a car and does neither, really, except under ideal circumstances."

State officials said the Coast Guard regulates such craft; its officials did not immediately respond to requests for more information. Spokesmen said the Department of Transportation doesn't regulate duck boats because they're amphibious, and the Department of Public Safety doesn't in this case because it's a commercial vessel, as opposed to a recreational one.

It's also not clear that any agency had the authority to keep boats off the lake. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built it in the late 1950s, but its officials said they don't have such authority.

Witnesses have said the weather appeared calm before a storm suddenly whipped up strong waves and spray.

But nearly eight hours earlier, the National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the western and central Missouri counties.

A severe thunderstorm warning that went out at 6:32 p.m. specifically mentioned Table Rock Lake. The first emergency calls over the accident occurred just after 7 p.m.

Meteorologist Elisa Raffa of KOLR-TV in Springfield said in a phone interview Saturday that her station was forecasting the threat of severe weather all morning.

"This storm didn't come out of nowhere," she said. "That is what pains me. I feel like we did everything, at least we tried to do everything, by the book as meteorologists and we still had this horrible tragedy on our hands."

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Hanna reported from Topeka, Kansas. Johnson reported from Seattle. Jim Salter in St. Louis; Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia; Roxana Hegeman in Wichita, Kansas, and James MacPherson in Bismarck, North Dakota, contributed.

Gal Gadot shows 'Wonder Woman 1984' first look at Comic-Con

"Wonder Woman 1984" is only three and a half weeks into production, but that didn't stop star Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins from bringing some footage to Comic-Con.

Audiences in the comic book convention's Hall H on Saturday got an early look at a scene where Diana Prince saves a young girl from some bad guys in their Miami Vice-finest in a very '80s-looking mall.

The clip played Saturday came in a stuffed presentation by Warner Bros. that included footage from two other DC Comics films, "Aquaman" and "Shazam!" The Wonder Woman and Aquaman characters are key characters in DC's Justice League franchise, the superhero supergroup that is meant to be the studio's answer to Marvel's "Avengers."

The first "Wonder Woman" film was a cultural and financial blockbuster, earning more than $800 million globally. It also became the most successful live-action film directed by a woman.

Jenkins explained Saturday why she set the movie in the 1980s.

"It was mankind at its best and worst," she said. "We see Wonder Woman in a period of time that is us at our most extreme...We thought it could go on forever, everything we were doing right then."

Chris Pine also joined Gadot and Jenkins on stage, but all stayed mum about how and why his character Steve Trevor is back considering his fate in the first movie.

"I am actually not really here right now," Pine said. "I am just an aura of emotional support for my friends."

Jenkins did say, however, that his presence is a "very important part" of the movie and that audiences will have to see it in November 2019 to find out why.

'Wonder Woman,' 'Aquaman' and 'Shazam!" thrill Comic-Con

Warner Bros. brought out all the stops Saturday at Comic-Con with an army of stars, surprises and new footage from films like "Aquaman ," ''Shazam! " and even "Wonder Woman 1984," which is only three and a half weeks into production. Jason Momoa, Gal Gadot, Chris Pratt, Johnny Depp and Nicole Kidman were just a few of the starry names to grace the stage of the comic book convention's Hall H.

Momoa, who stars as Aquaman, seemed to be as excited as those in the 6,500-seat audience, if not more so. The actor was downright giddy speaking about the film, which is over five years in the making.

"My heart is big and open," he said. "I'm really, really happy."

Director James Wan, best known for his "Conjuring" films, introduced some new footage in two trailers from the origin story, which hits theaters in December.

"I wanted to create a superhero film that we've never quite seen before. I wanted our film to be more unique," Wan said. "My movie plays more like a science fiction fantasy film than a traditional superhero movie."

Warner Bros.' was the most-anticipated Hall H presentation of the convention, which this year was absent of many of the big names that attendees have come to expect, like Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm ("Star Wars") and HBO's "Game of Thrones."

The studio also has continued to have to prove its mettle with its DC Comics universe, which has had its share of widely panned movies, like "Justice League." The focus Saturday thus was not on Batman or Superman, but the new, the fresh and the proven-quantities, like "Wonder Woman," which has been best-reviewed and most beloved of the new DC universe.

It's why, with 20 weeks of filming left to go, "Wonder Woman 1984" star Gadot and director Patty Jenkins took a break from their Washington D.C. shoot to tease brief footage from the highly anticipated follow-up to the groundbreaking superhero film.

The clip showed Diana Prince saving a young girl from some bad guys in their Miami Vice-finest in a very '80s-looking mall.

Chris Pine also joined Gadot and Jenkins on stage, but all stayed mum about how and why his character Steve Trevor is back considering his fate in the first movie (and that he looks to be the same age as he was in 1917).

Jenkins said his presence is a "very important part" of the movie and that audiences will have to see it in November 2019 to find out.

She did explain why she set the movie in the 1980s.

"It was mankind at its best and worst," Jenkins said. "We see Wonder Woman in a period of time that is us at our most extreme...We thought it could go on forever, everything we were doing right then."

Another audience-pleaser was "Shazam! " and Zachary Levi was on hand to introduce the first trailer for the DC superhero film, or "Big" with superpowers. The origin story shows how a bullied 14-year-old kid becomes the superhero (and a fully-grown man) after a fateful ride on the subway. It comes out in April.

"There are very few characters who are just stoked to have their powers," Levi said. "Since I still am waiting to wake up one morning and fly, to do that, I just got to be me. I got to be a genuine part of myself ... I love that there's still an optimism in him."

"Maybe now more than ever we need heroes like that, who care about people," Levi added.

Chris Pratt also took the stage with Phil Lord and Christopher Miller to tease "The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part ," out in February. Pratt says his own trajectory mimicked his character Emmett's journey in "The Lego Movie."

When he was cast in the first movie, he was still best known for being Andy in "Parks and Recreation," but by the time they finished voice-recording, he was Star-Lord in "Guardians of the Galaxy" and one of Hollywood's biggest stars.

"You think, 'Oh my life is a computer simulation and I'm living in the Matrix,'" he said.

The sequel will feature a few winks to Pratt's real life and career, including a character named Rex Dangervest, who counts "raptor trainer" as one of his many jobs.

Pratt's comment about the impact of "Guardians of the Galaxy" on his life was his only mention of the franchise on stage, which came just one day after writer and director James Gunn was fired from the third installment over past tweets. The actor pulled out of planned press line interviews following the news.

In addition to showing the trailer for "Godzilla: King of the Monsters ," many of the stars of "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald ," like Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Zoe Kravitz and Ezra Miller (sporting a "Super Mario Bros." Toadette costume) turned out to talk about their sequel as well.

"Everything is at stake, really," Law said of the film that comes out Nov. 16. "The depths and darkness in this story are the darkest that this world has plumbed before."

Other topics discussed included Law's "hot Dumbledore," and what they'd use Harry Potter magic for. Not missing a beat, Kravitz said, "Impeach Trump."

Johnny Depp, who plays Grindelwald, also made a surprise appearance in costume and character. "I love you Johnny," shouted an audience member.

As in years past, the studio brought out all the stops for the showstopper presentation, bringing in screens that stretch around 180 degrees of the massive room, and a booming sound system to match.

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

Actor Riz Ahmed praises Sandra Oh as a diversity trailblazer

Riz Ahmed, who shattered glass ceilings as the first Asian man to win an acting Emmy, is celebrating fellow trailblazer Sandra Oh.

The "Grey's Anatomy" actress became the first nominee of Asian descent in the leading drama actress category when Emmy nominations were announced earlier this month.

"I'm incredibly happy for her. Massively well deserved," Ahmed said Friday at Comic-Con. "I think we're living in a moment where we are all realizing that it's not enough to just carry on with business as usual. If we just sleep walk forward, we can end up walking off a cliff and I think a lot of people think we've done that politically, both in Europe and in America."

Last year, Ahmed took home an Emmy for "The Night Of." Oh received five bids for "Grey's" and has earned critical praise as a spy hunter in BBC America's "Killing Eve."

Comic-Con attendees got a look at Ahmed's upcoming Spider-Man spinoff "Venom." His co-star is Tom Hardy.

Astronaut drops in on Kraftwerk gig, plays duet from space

Kraftwerk fans are used to hearing otherworldly tunes, but the German electronic music pioneers took it to another level at a gig in Stuttgart.

Video posted Saturday by the European Space Agency shows German astronaut Alexander Gerst "dropping in" for a live performance from the International Space Station.

Using a tablet computer with a virtual synthesizer, Gerst played a duet of Kraftwerk's 1978 song "Spacelab" with the band Friday night to cheers from the audience.

He's not the first space musician. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and played a duet with the Barenaked Ladies while 400 kilometers (250 miles) above the Earth in 2013.

American astronaut Ron McNair planned to play saxophone from orbit with Jean Michel Jarre in 1986 but died in the Challenger tragedy.

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Video: https://youtu.be/rCQEzgtWv-E

Margaret Thatcher's spouse not happy about McCartney invite

Most hosts would be quite happy to have Paul McCartney come to a shindig. But that wasn't the case with Denis Thatcher in 1988 when planning a gala reception at 10 Downing Street.

Newly released papers show that the late husband of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher put a question mark next to the former Beatle's name on a proposed guest list he was reviewing.

The papers, released Saturday, show Denis Thatcher leaving check marks next to the guests he approved and question marks next to those he was less comfortable with.

The papers didn't offer an explanation of why he questioned the inclusion of the ex-Beatle. In a note, he wrote that he didn't mind inviting guests who didn't back the prime minister but questioned inviting those who had criticized his wife in public.

"Whilst I accept of course that not everyone who comes to our receptions are necessarily on 'our' side I find it both unpleasant and embarrassing to entertain those who publicly insult the PM," he said.

The April 1988 reception was planned as a way to reward 45 celebrities who had attended a rally during Margaret Thatcher's successful 1987 general election campaign.

A decision was made to greatly expand the party, so a proposed guest list of more than 200 people was drawn up and eventually reviewed by Denis Thatcher.

The documents show he also questioned the inclusion of naturalist David Attenborough, track star Sebastian Coe and singer Shirley Bassey, best known for the "Goldfinger" title track.

All four went on to greater honors: McCartney — one of the most popular entertainers in the world — and Coe were later made knights and Bassey became a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2000.

Attenborough was already a knight when Denis Thatcher indicated his discomfort with inviting him. The 92-year-old broadcaster recently was given the rare honor of an extended interview with Queen Elizabeth II.

Denis Thatcher had no problem with other prominent figures, including composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber and actress Judi Dench. He approved of the inclusion of Rolf Harris, a popular TV entertainer who decades later was convicted of sexually abusing young girls.

In the end, officials decided to reduce the guest list to the original 45 celebrities, plus some members of Britain's winter Olympics squad — so the people on the longer list were never invited, even those with extra check marks next to their names indicating Denis Thatcher very much wanted them there.

The newly released papers also show that Margaret Thatcher loaned her teddy bear to the Teddy Bear Museum in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1988 so that it could be put on display.

The Margaret Thatcher Foundation is gradually releasing her private files. The public will be able to view much of the archive starting on Monday at www.margaretthatcher.org.

Millions fall for South Carolina dentist in viral ‘In My Fillings’ dance video

A dentist in Greenville, South Carolina, is inspiring millions to get their teeth cleaned after taking on the Drake-inspired “In My Feelings” dance challenge.

Dr. Rich Constantine’s version of the “shiggy” -- a dance inspired by the rapper -- has over 24 million views on Facebook.

>> Read more trending news 

Over 100,000 people have commented on the video since it was posted Thursday.

>>Related: Watch: Will Smith, Ciara join ‘In My Feelings’ challenge dance-off in epic fashion

“I have 12 wisdom teeth that need to be pulled, and I think my baby teeth trying to come back, and I swear my k 9s have become L 2's ( whatever that might mean) I just need an appt immediately, yesterday, right now!” one user said.

“I just ordered a pound of gummy bears and washing it down with fruit punch,” another woman commented. “Cavity Watch 2018!! I never wanted one so bad!”

“I found myself looking for his wedding ring, then I remembered that I’m married,” another said.

For the record, Constantine is married, KSLA reports.

No winner in Friday’s Mega Millions jackpot; prize skyrockets to $493 million

No winners in Friday’s Mega Millions means the jackpot keeps rising -- Tuesday’s drawing has topped $493 million.

It’s possible that the prize could surge over the half-billion mark based on ticket sales, lottery officials state.

>> Read more trending news 

Tuesday’s jackpot of $493 million will be the fifth-largest in Mega Millions history.

If there is a winner and they choose the cash payout, they will take home $296 million.

Friday’s winning numbers were 44-14-30-62-1, with a Mega Ball of 1.

While no one took home the big prize, there were two $1 million ticket winners, in Illinois and Pennsylvania.

There were over 1.8 million winning tickets in Friday’s drawing at all levels, with 47 ticket winners of $10,000.

Tuesday night’s drawing will take place July 24 at 11 p.m. ET.

An excited, energetic Taylor Swift brings tour to MetLife

Taylor Swift brought her explosive Reputation Tour to the MetLife Stadium on Friday and will make history as the first female artist to play three consecutive shows at the venue when she performs Saturday and Sunday.

Swift was energetic and excited during her two-hour-plus show at the stadium, home to the New York Giants and the New York Jets.

She kicked the show in a glittery black number, changing outfits multiple times and performing across three stages at the venue holding 80,000 seats.

She sang a number of songs from her recent album, "reputation," including the hits "Gorgeous," ''Delicate," ''...Ready for It?" and "Look What You Made Me Do," which featured a large snake in the background.

"There's so many things you could be doing on your Friday night, so thank you for hanging out with us," Swift said to the feverish audience.

Ticket mix-up put family on ill-fated Missouri tourist boat

More than half of the 17 people killed when a tourist boat sank on a Branson lake were members of the same Indiana family, and they likely wouldn't have been on the ill-fated trip but for a ticket mix-up.

Tracy Beck, of Kansas City, Missouri, said she recalled the family members waiting in line. After they stopped for a picture, she said, a ticket taker realized they should have boarded at a different location and reassigned them.

The grief-stricken community, known for its country shows and entertainment, hosted two vigils Friday night. About 300 people gathered in the parking lot of Ride the Ducks of Branson and others mourned at a church, singing "Amazing Grace" at both locations.

At the rally at the duck boat business, the Rev. Zachary Klein said he had no words of comfort to offer the families of victims "because there simply are no words to comfort them."

Divers found the final four bodies Friday in Table Rock Lake near Branson after the deadliest accident of its kind in nearly two decades. State and federal investigators were trying to determine what went sent the vessel known as a duck boat to its demise. An initial assessment blamed thunderstorms and winds that approached hurricane strength, but it wasn't clear why the amphibious vehicle even ventured out into the water.

Mayor Karen Best said Branson is typically a city "full of smiles ... But today we are grieving and crying."

Officials haven't released names of the victims, but the sad details emerged throughout the day. Among them: A popular duck boat driver, a father and son visiting from Arkansas, and the nine Indiana relatives, many of them children.

The risk of heavy weather was apparent hours before the boat left shore.

The National Weather Service in Springfield, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of Branson, issued a severe thunderstorm watch for its immediate area Thursday, saying conditions were ripe for winds of 70 mph. It followed up at 6:32 p.m. with a severe thunderstorm warning for three counties that included Branson and the lake. The warning mentioned both locations. The boat went down about 40 minutes later, shortly after 7 p.m.

"When we issue a warning, it means take action," meteorologist Kelsey Angle said.

A full investigation was underway, with help from the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board. Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader urged anyone with video or photos of the accident to contact authorities.

The agencies were briefing Missouri's two senators on the accident. Democrat Claire McCaskill said she would look into possible "legislative solutions," while Republican Roy Blunt called it a "tragedy that never should have happened."

Suzanne Smagala with Ripley Entertainment, which owns Ride the Ducks in Branson, said the company was assisting authorities. She said this was the company's only accident in more than 40 years of operation.

Twenty-nine passengers and two crew members were aboard for a pleasure cruise. Seven of the 14 survivors were hurt when the vessel went down. At least two children and two adults were still hospitalized Friday afternoon. The captain survived, authorities said.

Among the injured was 14-year-old Loren Smith of Osceola, Arkansas. Her father, 53-year-old retired math teacher Steve, Smith, and her 15-year-old brother, Lance, died in the accident. Loren suffered a concussion but survived.

"It's a hard thing," Steve Smith's father, Carroll Smith, said of losing his only child and his only grandson. "It's a very difficult day."

Brayden Malaske, of Harrah, Oklahoma, boarded a replica 19th-century paddle-wheeler known as the Branson Belle on the same lake just before the storm hit.

At the time, he said, the water seemed calm, and no one was worried about the weather.

"But it suddenly got very dark," he recalled.

In a short video taken by Malaske from the deck of the Belle, the duck boat can be seen wallowing through the choppy, wind-whipped lake, with water only inches from its windows. Dark, rolling waves crash over its front end. The footage ends before the boat capsizes.

Later, people on Malaske's boat saw a duck boat passenger "hanging on for dear life" to the paddle wheel of the Belle, he said.

The mayor identified the crew member operating the boat as Bob Williams, known informally as "Captain Bob."

"He was a great ambassador for Branson," Best said. "He was at every event. He knew everyone. He was always promoting Branson."

A survivor from the family who lost nine relatives said the captain told passengers not to bother grabbing life jackets.

Tia Coleman told Indianapolis television station WXIN that she and a nephew were the only survivors among 11 relatives aboard the boat. She said she lost all her children, but she did not say how many.

Coleman said the captain told passengers that they would not need life jackets. By the time of the accident, "it was too late."

An email message seeking comment from Ripley Entertainment about Coleman's comment was not immediately returned.

Named for their ability to travel on land and in water, duck boats have been involved in other serious accidents in the past, including the deaths of more than 40 people since 1999.

Five college students were killed in 2015 in Seattle when a duck boat collided with a bus. Thirteen people died in 1999 when a boat sank near Hot Springs, Arkansas.

"Duck boats are death traps," said Andrew Duffy, an attorney whose Philadelphia law firm handled litigation related to two fatal duck boat accidents there. "They're not fit for water or land because they are half car and half boat."

Safety advocates have sought improvements and complained that too many agencies regulate the boats with varying safety requirements.

The boats were originally designed for the military, specifically to transport troops and supplies in World War II. They were later modified for use as sightseeing vehicles.

The sheriff said Thursday that two duck boats were on the water at the time of the storm. Both were headed back to land. One returned safely. The other did not.

Divers quickly located the sunken vessel, which came to rest on its wheels on the lakebed. Authorities planned to recover it at some point in the next few days.

The boat sank in 40 feet (12 meters) of water and then rolled on its wheels into a deeper area with 80 feet (25 meters) of water.

The Ride the Ducks tour begins in downtown Branson, where the vehicles take passengers on a tour while the captain cracks jokes and points out landmarks. Eventually, the boats pull up to the lake and slowly enter the water with a small splash.

After a few minutes on the water, the vehicles return to land and to their home base, which features a store selling candy and souvenirs.

Table Rock Lake, east of Branson, was created in the late 1950s when the Corps of Army Engineers built a dam across the White River to provide hydroelectric power to the Ozarks.

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Associated Press writers Hannah Grabenstein in Branson; Jim Salter in St. Louis; Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Missouri; and John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas; and AP researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

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For the latest updates on this story: https://bit.ly/2NwoQVz.

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