Trial Graphics: Miss Majestic
Miss Majestic, a World War II-vintage duck boat was on a regular excursion tour with an operator and 20 passengers on board. 7 minutes after entering Lake Hamilton, water started to flood the hull. In less than 30 seconds, the boat sank in 60 feet of water.
One passenger escaped before the vehicle submerged but the remaining passengers and the operator were trapped by the vehicle's canopy roof and drawn under water. Six passengers and the operator were able to escape. The remaining 13 passengers, including 3 children, lost their lives. Investigators examined the boat as well as underwater pictures and videos and determined that improper maintenance was the primary cause of the accident.
TMBA created these 3D animations based on the NTSB case report and expert testimony.
Miss Majestic Accident Investigation
Shortly before noon on Saturday, May 1, 1999, the amphibious excursion boat Miss Majestic entered Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs, Arkansas, on a regular excursion tour of the area. On board were 20 passengers and 1 operator. According to the operator, minutes after entering the water, the vessel listed to port and then sank rapidly by the stern.
The vessel sank below the surface of the water, taking the passengers and the operator with it. The vessel sank in 60 feet of water, and 13 of the 20 passengers, including 3 children, lost their lives.
According to testimony from the survivors, the Miss Majestic had been in the lake only 5 to 7 minutes when its stern became awash; within a minute thereafter, the vessel was swamped with water coming over the stern, and it sank. The Miss Majestic sank so rapidly that only seven passengers and the operator were able to escape from the vessel and swim to the surface, where they were rescued by pleasure boaters in the area.
The survivors’ time estimate of 5 to 7 minutes agrees with the Safety Board’s estimates, which are based on the vessel’s average speed and the distance that it traveled between the entrance ramp and the location of the sinking. DUKWs, such as the Miss Majestic, normally trim by the stern when waterborne, resulting in an aft free board of as little as 8 to 12 inches, depending on the number, weight, and distribution of the passengers.
Inflow Simulation and NTSB Report Findings
The Safety Board made calculations to simulate the Miss Majestic accident, in which the boot on the aft end of the aft drive shaft housing had completely slipped off the housing. A detached boot allows water to enter the hull through the annular space between the 3-inch-diameter drive shaft and the 4-7/8-inch-diameter housing.
The Safety Board estimated that the minimum rate of water inflow was about 170 gallons per minute (gpm), which was enough to eliminate the vessel’s free board at the stern and sink the vessel in about 7 minutes. To verify the accuracy of its estimates, the Safety Board contracted a recognized naval architectural firm to perform detailed calculations. The firm’s preliminary calculations confirmed that a vessel such as the Miss Majestic that was carrying 20 passengers would sink from uncontrolled flooding in as little as about 6 minutes.
As originally designed, a DUKW is equipped with a dewatering pump that is chain-driven from the propeller shaft and powered by the DUKW’s propulsion engine. Operation of the pump, therefore, depends on the reliable operation of the vessel’s propulsion system, as well as the reliable operation of the pump itself. The Miss Majestic’s dewatering pump was found to be inoperable, despite witness reports that it had functioned only 2 days earlier. Reliance upon an active system, such as a dewatering pump, requires assured reliability. However, even with meticulous maintenance and regular testing, reliability can never be guaranteed. Any shortcomings in maintenance, whether the result of inadequate training or experience, improper or ineffective procedures, failure to identify a problem, use of poor technique, or other causes, can render the active system useless.
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