Leadership Has REAL Consequences – The Table Rock Lake Tragedy

December 1, 2018

On a sunny Summer day in near Branson, Arkansas, a group of folks embarked on a duck boat tour; 31 people in all. Little did they know the tragedy facing them as the amphibious vehicle entered Table Rock Lake.

Before the tour, Captain Scott looked at the weather forecast and noticed a severe thunderstorm warning. The warning didn’t deter him. He was an experienced captain and was confident that the tour could proceed as usual.

After the passengers embarked on Stretch Duck 7, Captain Scott shared brief safety instructions. He mentioned there were life jackets on board but the passengers wouldn’t need them.

Then it hit. An intense thunderstorm seemed to come out of nowhere. The storm’s 75mph straight line winds created four-foot waves. Captain Scott struggled to keep control of Stretch Duck 7. As part of standard operating procedures, he didn’t speed up the boat and try to make it to shore.

Water began swamping the boat. Trying to appear calm and confident, he told the passengers not to worry, that they wouldn’t need their life jackets and to stay seated.

Trusting Captain Scott’s words, none of the passengers put on the easily accessible life jackets. Then, for some reason, the boat’s plastic curtains were lowered blocking the exits. The passengers were trapped and couldn’t abandon ship even if the order was given.

Stretch Duck 7 began to sink and quickly submerged taking its passengers with it. Tragically, seventeen people drowned – nine members from one family perished in the accident. Fourteen people survived including Captain Scott.

View accident video here: https://youtu.be/d5TCXz3taJk

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For some reason, the Table Rock Lake tragedy captured my attention last Summer. I was curious about Captain Scott’s alleged negligence and inattention to duties. I began to wonder how I would act in a crisis? What leadership lessons can be learned by examining what not to do? Why did Captain Scott dismiss the warning signs? Why did he not direct the passengers to put on life jackets? Why didn’t he speed up the boat and head to shore? Why did he put the boat’s plastic curtains down trapping the passengers even if an abandon ship order was given? Why did the passengers merely comply with the captain’s orders and not act?

I don’t know the answers to all of the above questions. The accident is still under investigation, and Captain Scott is awaiting trial on negligence and inattention to duties charges.

What I do know is that leadership has REAL consequences. The decision Captain Scott resulted in lost lives and a sunken ship. So, what should you do when faced with a crisis and avoid Captain Scott’s mistakes. I discovered the following principles:

What does the tragedy at Table Rock Lake teach us? That leadership has REAL consequences. Our decisions and actions matter. I recommend that you take the time to think through how you’d handle a crisis – professionally or personally. Your mental preparation may make all the difference.

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