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Ordeal over for passengers stranded overnight on Missouri lake cruise

By Rick Martin, CNN
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Showboat passengers rescued
  • NEW: All 576 passengers are now off the boat, having left via a 30-foot plank
  • NEW: Investigators are probing the paddle wheel as a possible cause
  • The boat ran aground in a remote area of Table Rock Lake on Saturday afternoon
  • Gusty winds and freezing temperatures made the disembarking process difficult

(CNN) -- After a rough night spent wrapped in tablecloths and dozing on floors, stranded showboat passengers walked to safety Sunday from their disabled vessel via a 30-foot plank, a spokeswoman for the company that owns the boat said.

By noon Sunday, all 567 passengers and 76 crew members had been escorted off the Showboat Branson Belle, according to Lisa Rau, a spokeswoman for Herschend Family Entertainment.

Marine experts onboard the ship Sunday afternoon were focusing on the boat's propulsion system, including its paddle wheel, as a possible reason the ship ran aground the previous day in a remote area of Missouri's Table Rock Lake, Rau said.

The grounding left all those trapped and forced to spend the night on a boat without any sleeping accommodations.

Earlier, the arduous task of reaching the boat's remote location involved bulldozing vegetation to create a pathway. Gusty winds and freezing temperatures made that and the disembarking process difficult, according to Rau.

'Moving heaven and earth' to get to boat

"We are moving heaven and earth to get to them," Rau said earlier Sunday,.

The boat left the dock in Branson, Missouri, at 4 p.m. Saturday and ran aground after the captain had problems with the thruster during the cruise, which was scheduled to last two and a half hours.

The boat did have heat and electrical power, Rau said, and passengers were provided food and beverages.

"It's not the best case scenario, but we're doing everything we can to make sure everybody's as comfortable as possible," Rau said earlier.

Jim Wellborn, a passenger stranded in the boat, said that they were in the middle of a comedy show when the captain interrupted and told the audience that the boat 's propellers had hit something under water.

"We were almost back to the dock, when we heard a couple of loud noises. The comedian said something funny and we all laughed," he said.

The Showboat Branson Belle is a 750-seat paddle boat with no gambling or alcohol, she said. Its featured "Showstoppers" performance includes 30 songs, according to the cruise website.

All those passengers stranded overnight will get annual passes to the Silver Dollar City theme park in Branson that, like the boat, is owned by Herschend Family Entertainment, along with a full refund for the cruise, said Rau.

CNN's Paul Chambers and Adam Shivers contributed to this report.