Four North Seattle College students were killed and numerous others have been injured in a collision between a Ride the Ducks tour vehicle and a charter bus on the Aurora Bridge.

Share story

Related coverage:


Update at 11:30 p.m.: All lanes of the Aurora Bridge reopened late Thursday night after crews cleared the roadway of wreckage.

Update at 10:55 p.m.: One patient was discharged from Harborview Medical Center Thursday evening, hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said in a statement. Now, 15 patients are being treated there. Two are in critical condition in intensive care. Ten victims are in serious condition in intensive care, while three victims are in satisfactory condition.

Tim Gesner, 61, of Orlando, was on the Ride the Ducks tour vehicle that collided with a charter bus on the Aurora Bridge. The crash resulted in four fatalities and numerous injuries. (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)

Fatal crash on Aurora Bridge

Source: News reports (Kelly Shea and Mark Nowlin / The Seattle Times)
Source: News reports (Kelly Shea and Mark Nowlin / The Seattle Times)

Update at 8:40 p.m.: Crews began removing the wreckage from the Aurora Bridge Thursday evening. Police officers and other officials watched as the Duck vehicle was loaded onto a flatbed tow truck.

Update at 7:30 p.m.: A 17-member, interdisciplinary team from the National Transportation Safety Board, along with an NTSB board member, are due to arrive in Seattle Friday to begin their inquiry into the crash.

Mayor Ed Murray said the city has been in touch with the governor’s office and the U.S. State Department to assist families of the victims, expected to travel here from several countries.

Murray said he said he expects city officials, including himself, will make themselves available to meet with families of those who have been killed or injured.

The Seattle Hotel Association has offered to provide rooms for victims’ family members as they arrive in Seattle.

Murray said “This is a very very very very difficult moment for so many families in our community.”

Chief O’Toole said she understands there is a “strong need for answers . . . But it is too early at this point to draw any conclusions as to the cause of this accident.”

After the police complete their investigation, Seattle Transportation crews will inspect the bridge surface and its underside to see if it can be safely reopened, said SDOT Director Scott Kubly.

Update at 5:37 p.m.: Sixteen patients are currently being treated at Harborview Medical Center, according to spokeswoman Susan Gregg. Two are critical condition in intensive care and nine are serious in intensive care.

Victims of a fatal collision between a Ride the Ducks vehicle and a charter bus on the Aurora Bridge are sent at Harborview Medical Center. WARNING: Contains graphic images. (Seattle Times Staff)

Four are satisfactory condition and are not in intensive care.

One patient was transferred from another hospital to Harborview and is satisfactory condition.

Two patients have been discharged from Harborview.

Update at 5:32 p.m.: Donors anxious to give blood to help victims of the Aurora Bridge crash overwhelmed Bloodworks Northwest sites in person and online Thursday, prompting officials to plea for patience.

“Scheduling a blood donation anytime during the next four to five days will help us respond to this tragedy, and replenish the local supply to meet normal patient needs,” said Dave Larsen, a spokesman for the agency.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Dozens of people lined up outside a downtown Seattle donation site and a surge of users crashed the agency’s website after Bloodworks officials issued an urgent demand for blood earlier in the day.

Hospitals across Seattle spiked demand for blood after the crash that killed four people, left eight critically injured and dozens more hurt.

The need remains, particularly for O-positive and O-negative blood types, Larsen said. But people hoping to donate should schedule sessions online instead of showing up.

Area hospitals generally have a sufficient supply to meet the demands of such emergencies, but with so many injuries in a concentrated time and location, donors are needed to build reserves back up quickly.

For more information, visit www.bloodworksnw.org.

Update at 4:19 p.m.: A former driver for Ride the Ducks describes the drive on the Aurora Bridge:

“The Aurora Bridge in either direction is the scariest part of the trip because the lanes are so narrow and there is so much traffic,” the driver, who asked not to be named, wrote in an email. “I remember being told in training that the Duck would fit in a lane but that if you felt safer to go ahead and straddle over the line some (if the next lane was open, of course.) Most drivers stayed in the far right lanes, never passed on the bridge.

“The driver is operating a 26,000-pound vehicle that is very wide with a max of 36 lives in your hands. As you approach the Aurora Bridge from the south, you are lining up how you are going to go over the bridge (hug the concrete on the right side or cheat over to the left, straight down the lane or straddle), you are telling tourists to get out their cameras for the Kodak moment while on the bridge and you are trying to queue the music to play ‘Come Fly With Me’ by Michael Buble.

Update at 3:34 p.m.: Four people were killed and eight others were critically injured when a Ride the Ducks tour vehicle careened into a charter bus carrying international students on the Aurora Bridge late Thursday morning.

All four of the dead were students at North Seattle College. Another 20 people suffered minor injuries.

A witness described the amphibious Duck vehicle, which was headed north, swerving and hitting an SUV before colliding with and ripping out the side of the southbound bus.

“We’ve had a terrible tragedy,” Mayor Ed Murray said during a news briefing about two hours after the crash. “The thoughts and prayers of this city go out to everyone ­— the families and those impacted.”

Murray said the city will face significant transportation problems for the rest of the day, as Aurora Avenue will be closed between 39th and Denny into the evening.

The Ballard and Fremont bridges will remain closed to boat traffic, to help alleviate some of the stress. The mayor asked people to make their transportation plans around the crisis.

Seattle firefighters evaluated more than 50 people for injuries, with bleeding victims laid out on yellow tarps in a triage area.

The bus was chartered by North Seattle College to transport 45 students and employees of the school’s international program, said spokeswoman Melissa Mixon. College President Warren Brown said the passengers were part of a new-student-orientation group that was heading to Safeco Field and potentially to Pike Place Market after that.

The college has about 900 international students, many from Asia, out of a total enrollment per quarter of about 4,000, Mixon said. The bus involved in the collision is owned by Bellair Charters and Airporter.

Mixon said uninjured students were being brought back to the campus, where crisis counselors were on hand. Some of the students were also taken to  nearby Woodland Park Zoo.

Ride the Ducks’ Seattle headquarters was closed after the accident, and president Brian Tracey said he is “trying to get more information, just like you.”

“It was devastating,” he said. “All I care about is the safety of the passengers and the people who were injured on the duck.”

The distinctive, six-wheeled amphibious vehicles are a common sight around Seattle, particularly in summer. They transport tourists on what’s described as a “party on wheels,” with singalongs and a route that includes Pioneer Square, the Seattle waterfront and a plunge into Lake Union.

A woman who witnessed the crash said two SUVs were also involved. “It’s really bad,” she said.

Jesse Christenson, 32, of Portland, also watched the crash unfold. “The Duck boat was 100 yards in front of me, the first car in front of me,” she said. “What I saw was the Duck boat had its blinker on, trying to get into the left lane. Then all of a sudden the Duck boat turned sharper to the left.”

Christenson said she initially thought the amphibious vehicle had a blowout, but that when she walked up to the vehicle after the crash, it looked like it had some sort of “vehicle malfunction.”

“It looked like the wheel on the Duck bus broke off,” she said. “There was a wheel assembly in the road.”

Brad Volm, 23, of Philadelphia, was driving one of the SUVs involved in the crash, and described red fluid leaking from the Duck’s front left tire.

Another driver swerved to avoid the Duck and bus and Volm crashed head-on into that other vehicle, he said.

“It all happened so fast,” said Volm, who was on a cross-country trip with his friend Bradley Sawhill. “I got out of my car and there were bodies just everywhere. People laying in the street.”

Christenson called 911.

“The scene was pretty gruesome,” he said.

Bellair issued a statement Thursday afternoon that read, in part, “We are devastated and heartbroken by the fatalities. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones of the deceased.”

The bus and its driver were based out of Federal Way. The driver was physically OK but struggling to grapple with the aftermath of the crash, said Richard Johnson, general manager of Bellair Charters.

“It is so sad, for the families involved,” Johnson told the Bellingham Herald. “We need prayer.”

After staffers from the renowned Canlis ran out onto the bridge to help immediately after the accident, the restaurant canceled dinner service and opened its doors to first-responders.

“We’re just a good spot for a cup of coffee and a restroom and lunch,” said co-owner Mark Canlis. “It’s pretty much the natural thing to do. Chef just made some sandwiches for those who are kind of just wandering in. We’re taking care of them the best we can.”

Chef Brady Williams added, “We’re hosting the police and firefighters, and doing whatever we can do.”

It’s Canlis’ first unplanned closure since opening in 1950. The restaurant, located just off the south end of the Aurora Bridge, is considered among the best in Seattle.

Update at 3:28 p.m.: State safety officials in Washington who oversee motor carriers opened an investigation Thursday into the crash.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC), which regulates Bellair Charters and Ride the Ducks of Seattle,  will inspect vehicle and driver records related to the crash to determine if the companies complied with state and federal safety regulations.

Bellair Charters, based in Ferndale, Whatcom County,  was last inspected by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in 2013 and received a satisfactory rating, according to the UTC.

The company’s overall safety record in the past two years appears to be good, according to federal records.

The UTC conducted a comprehensive safety inspection of Ride the Ducks’ fleet, including driver qualifications, employee drug and alcohol testing and vehicle-maintenance records in December 2012, issuing a satisfactory rating to the company, the agency said.

UTC inspectors will issue a preliminary report once the investigation is completed.

Update at 2:24 p.m.: All four people killed in Thursday’s crash were students at North Seattle College.

Ron Chow, a representative of the Chinese consulate, said after speaking with hospital and North Seattle College officials, confirmed that all four bus passengers who died were students.

In all, 48 students from six countries were involved, Chow said. He wasn’t sure how many of them are Chinese.

College President Warren Brown said the bus riders were part of a new-student-orientation group that was heading to Safeco Field and potentially to Pike Place Market afterward.

Update at 2:21 p.m.: Bloodworks Northwest is issuing an urgent demand for blood donors to replenish local supplies depleted Thursday by a massive fatal accident on the Aurora Bridge. “We got a call for 15 STAT O-negative units at Harborview,” said Dave Larsen, a spokesman for the regional blood center.

In addition to Harborview Medical Center, a level-1 trauma center, other area hospitals were also issuing requests for blood to help victims of the accident that killed at least four and critically injured at least 12 , he added.

“They’re coming in fast and furious,” he said. “It’s just a huge demand from one event.”

There’s additional demand for blood components for victims in the crash that involved up to 50 people, including many less seriously hurt, said Dr. James AuBuchon, Bloodworks president and chief executive.

Area hospitals generally have a sufficient supply to meet the demands of such emergencies, but with so many injuries in a concentrated time and location, donors are needed to build reserves back up quickly, Larsen said.

O-negative and O-positive blood types are especially needed, officials said. Donors may make appointments as soon as possible at one of the center’s 12 sites or at a mobile drive.

For more information, visit www.bloodworksnw.org.

Update at 2:13 p.m.: Harborview Medical Center update from spokeswoman Susan Gregg: 17 at Harborview, eight critical, eight serious, one satisfactory — of those, three are in surgery. Youngest patient is 17.  Thirty others at other hospitals with less serious injuries. A total of 47 patients.

Not expecting additional patients at Harborview.

Update at 1:54 p.m.: Warren Brown, the president of North Seattle College, said there were two buses of students and staff on the college trip, with 45 students and staff in each.  He spoke briefly at Woodland Park Zoo, where some of those people were taken after the crash.  About 25 of them were uninjured or didn’t have serious injuries and were taken back to campus. Brown  said he didn’t yet have a clear number of how many students and staff were injured.

Trinidad Alcaraz, security and EMT manager at the zoo, said the 25 people at the zoo were all young, and all were examined by the zoo’s security staff and emergency-medical technicians.  He said he believed all of them had been on the first bus.

“Some had some minor injuries, obviously shock,” he said.  “We made further recommendation that they be seen at the college and be re-evaluated.

About 30 people from the college came to pick them up and drive them back to campus, Alcaraz said.

Update at 1:45 p.m.: Brad Volm, 23, of Philadelphia, was driving north in an SUV behind a Ride the Ducks vehicle when the amphibious vehicle “swerved” and crashed into the Bellair charter bus. He said it appeared there was something wrong with the Duck’s front left tire, which had red fluid leaking from it.

Another driver swerved to avoid the Duck and the  bus and Volm crashed head-on into that other vehicle, he said.

“It all happened so fast,” said Volm, who was on a cross-country trip with his friend Bradley Sawhill. “I got out of my car and there were bodies just everywhere. People laying in the street.”

Update at 1:34 p.m.: Brian Tracey, president of Ride the Ducks, said he is “trying to get more information, just like you.”

“It was devastating,” he said. “All I care about is the safety of the passengers and the people who were injured on the Duck.”

He said the company has a good safety record. “We train and train and train and have ongoing continuing-education classes with our captains and our drivers to make sure they’re being safe all the time,” he said.

Meanwhile, 14 total patients are being treated at at Harborview Medical Center. Twelve are critical, one is serious and one is satisfactory. Injuries range from face to head.

The other 30 patients are less seriously injured and were triaged to local hospitals, including UW Medical Center and Northwest Hospital & Medical Center. Family members who might think a loved one is at Harborview, can call 206-520-5200.

Update at 1:14 p.m.: Victims and hospitals:

14 people at Harborview, 12 critical.

10 patients triaged with less serious injuries taken to other Seattle hospitals.

UW Medical Center in Seattle has five patients, all in satisfactory condition.

Northwest Hospital Seattle: Males ages 60, 24, 22, 20, 19, 17. Female age 36. All satisfactory; one more expected

Group Health says they have two patients.

Update at 1:07 p.m.: “We’ve had a terrible tragedy,” Mayor Ed Murray said during a news briefing a short time ago. “The thoughts and prayers of this city go out to everyone ­– the families and those impacted.”

Murray said the city will face significant transportation problems for the rest of the day, as Aurora Avenue will be closed between 39th and Denny into the evening.

“The bridge will be closed for many, many hours,” Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole added.

The Ballard and Fremont bridges will remain closed to boat traffic, to help alleviate some of the stress. The mayor asked people to make their transportation plans around the crisis.

Seattle Department of Transportation Director Scott Kubly said once firefighters are done treating patients and police finish their investigation, his crews will finish cleaning up the bridge and inspect it for damage before it can re-open.

Update at 1:04 p.m.: Forty-five students and employees from North Seattle College’s international program were traveling on the charter bus involved in the accident, said Melissa Mixon, spokeswoman for the college. Their conditions are not known at this time, she said.

Uninjured students are being brought back to campus, where the college has food and crisis counselors on hand, Mixon said.

She said she wasn’t sure where the students were traveling. International students often arrive early and go through orientation before classes start, taking trips to places like the Pike Place Market and other sites around Seattle. The term begins Monday.

North Seattle College has about 900 international students out of an enrollment of about 4,000. Mixon said most of those students are from Asian countries, although she did not have an exact breakdown of nationalities.

Update at 12:55 p.m.: Update on injuries: 12 in critical condition; 20 with minor injuries.

Update at 12:51 p.m..: Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins confirms four people are now dead in the crash. “This is a terrible tragedy,” said Mayor Ed Murray.

Update at 12:41 p.m.: North Seattle College confirms 45 students were on charter bus. The school has more than 900 international students, with classes scheduled to start Monday.

Original post: Two people have been killed and nine others are in critical condition after a Ride the Ducks tour vehicle collided with a charter bus on the Aurora Bridge, Seattle police say.

The Seattle Fire Department says about 50 people were evaluated for injuries. Twelve people suffered minor injuries.

All planes on the bridge are blocked for the investigation, which is expected to take several hours.

Harbor Medical Center spokeswoman Susan Gregg said six critically injured people have been taken to that hospital, and they expect five more.

Ten others with less-serious injuries are being taken to other hospitals, she said.

Sue Stangl, spokeswoman for the Seattle Fire Department, said Harborview would receive the “tragic, trauma-type injuries” because it is the region’s trauma center. The two fatalities were aboard the bus, she said.

A triage area was set up on the bridge where medics evaluated and treated the injured.

A witness reported that the amphibious vehicle collided with the bus, ripping out the side of the bus. Two SUVs swerved to avoid the crash and were also involved, she said.

“It’s really bad,” said the woman.

Jesse Christenson, 32, of Portland, also witnessed the crash.

“The Duck boat was 100 yards in front of me, the first car in front of me. What I saw was the Duck boat had its blinker on, trying to get in the left lane. Then all of a sudden the Duck boat turned sharper into the left. I initially thought it was a blow out. The Duck boat then hit another car with a roof rack then went head on into the into oncoming tour bus,” he said.

Christenson called 911.

“The scene was pretty gruesome …. There were people in shock. There were enough people helping, I just kept calling 911 but they weren’t answering,” he said.

Christenson said he first thought the Duck vehicle had a tire blowout, but after walking toward the vehicle he said it looks like there was some sort of “vehicle malfunction.”

“It looked like the wheel on the Duck bus broke off; there was a wheel assembly in front of the Duck boat.”

The bus involved in the collision is owned by Bellair Charters and Airporter. The accident was reported around 11:15 a.m.

Officials with Ride the Ducks could not be immediately reached. The company’s Seattle headquarters is closed for the time being, according to an employee.

The Duck name is derived from the designation DUKW, derived from six-wheeled vehicles used as landing craft by the U.S. military during World War II. They were designed to deliver cargo from ships at sea directly to shore, according to the company’s website.

The amphibious vehicles have been involved in several accidents, most recently in July.

The company was involved in two other collisions in recent years, in December 2010 and June 2011, when different Duck drivers rear-ended passenger vehicles at Third Avenue and Pike Street and at Aurora Avenue North and Denny Way. No one was injured, but both Duck drivers told officers they didn’t see the cars because of the height of their own vehicles, according to the collision reports.

Brian Tracey, president of Ride the Ducks, which offers tours through Seattle, said the vehicles have “cameras and mirrors all over the Ducks, and the drivers are required to take a safety class once a month.”

Seattle Times staff reporters Sandi Doughton, Christine Clarridge, Paige Cornwell, Jennifer Sullivan, Bob Young, Jack Broom, Jessica Lee, Evan Bush, Katherine Long, Steve Miletich, JoNel Aleccia and Bethany Jean Clement contributed to this post.