Struck by the proximity of tragedy and serenity, composer Fred West — who was below the Aurora Bridge in a kayak when a Ride the Ducks vehicle slammed into a charter bus — wrote a song overnight that he has dedicated to the victims.
In a kayak with his daughter beneath the Aurora Bridge on Thursday, Fred West was about as close and yet as far as one could be from what was happening on the span.
It was a beautiful, crisp fall day, as lovely as it gets in Seattle, he said, when suddenly he saw a piece of paper that appeared to have come from the bridge fluttering down to the water.
“Caught in the wind, it was like a butterfly, drifting up and down, before it finally landed,” said West, 61.
He paddled over to clean up the trash and then noticed other debris raining from the bridge, bits and bobs, this and that, plastic bottles.
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The paper was a standard field-trip permission form, he said, with the name of a student and a phone number on it.
He then heard sirens, but he didn’t learn until he stopped by the houseboat of a friend that there had been a horrific collision on the bridge that immediately killed four North Seattle College students and left more than a dozen critically or seriously injured.
The students who died at the crash site were identified last week as Privando “Ivan” Eduardus Putradanto, 18, of Indonesia; Mami Sato, 36, of Japan; Runjie Song, 17, of China; and Claudia Derschmidt, 49, of Austria.
A fifth victim, 20-year-old Haram Kim, died over the weekend from injuries she suffered in the crash.
Although the National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the collision, early information indicates the Ride the Ducks tour vehicle may have experienced a mechanical failure, crossed the median and broadsided the Bellair Charters bus in which the fatally injured victims were riding.
The boy whose name was on the permission slip found by West is at Harborview Medical Center in serious condition in the Intensive Care Unit, according to a hospital spokeswoman. Two other victims remain at Harborview in serious condition, and six others in satisfactory condition.
“It struck me that we were in a unique position and yet completely unaware that this was happening over us,” he said.
Through the night he thought and thought, and then West — a musician, composer and director of the Seattle Peace Chorus, the City Cantabile Choir and the Shoreline Unitarian Universalist Choir — did what he does.
He wrote a song.
He had this image of life, “fragile and fluttering down from the bridge,” that he put to music.
On Saturday, he taught the piece for the first time to the Seattle Peace Chorus.
West said the group plans to perform the piece at the Seattle Sings! 2015 Festival, which features three days of free choral performances from Oct. 8 to 10 at St. Mark’s Cathedral on Capitol Hill.
The piece, which he has titled “All Your Precious Light,” will be dedicated to the victims of the Aurora Bridge Crash, living and dead, and to all of Seattle that joined in the mourning.
“Beauty and serenity, and just a short distance away, a catastrophic thing happened,” West said. “It’s quite a metaphor for life, all the chaos and serenity coexisting.”