Four people, all international students at North Seattle College, died and 12 were seriously injured in a collision between a Ride the Ducks tour vehicle and a charter bus on the Aurora Bridge.
Update at 3:40 p.m.: The youngest victim of the crash has been identified by the King County Medical Examiner’s Office as Runjie Song, 17, of China.
Update at 1:48 p.m.: At a news conference Friday in Seattle, Earl Weener, a board member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said investigators will spend about a week investigating the crash in Seattle before heading back to NTSB headquarters in Washington, D.C. He said the investigation could take up to a year to complete.
Weener said the agency will be focusing on the reasons for the crash – what went wrong and why it went wrong. He said Seattle police will conduct “a law enforcement investigation.”
Weener said the NTSB has investigated other crashes involving amphibious vehicles, but never one while it was operating on land.
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The NTSB is asking for witness help in the form of tips, video and photos. He asked that people with information to call Seattle police at 206-233-5000.
Update at 1:07 p.m. Friday: Students from four countries were killed in Thursday’s collision on the Aurora Bridge between a tour bus of international students and a Ride the Ducks vehicle.
Those killed in the crash include Claudia Derschmidt, a 49-year-old woman from Austria; Privando Putradanto, an 18-year-old man from Indonesia; Mami Sato, a 36-year-old woman from Japan; and a 17-year-old girl from China whose name was not released because she is a minor.
Eva Kammel, Austria’s honorary consulate for Washington, Idaho and Montana, said Derschmidt had come to Seattle about two weeks ago with her 15-year-old son. She planned to take classes and improve her English as her son went to high school in the area. Derschmidt’s family has been notified of her death, Kammel said.
It is very common in Austria for a teenage student to spend a year abroad, Kammel said. So it was for Derschmidt’s son.
But in a twist, his mother — who had a great love of adventures and wanted to improve her English — decided to join her son on his semester abroad, said Kammel. The two earlier traveled to the U.S. to arrange for an apartment, then arrived in Seattle about two weeks ago with the son enrolled at Roosevelt High School and Derschmidt enrolled at North Seattle College. They were accompanied by a friend of the son’s who planned to stay for a two-week visit, Kammel said.
Kammel said Derschmidt and the two boys had made friends with a Seattle woman with ties to Germany while they were at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco when they first arrived in the states. They maintained contact and that woman and she and her family are now caring for the two teen boys, until they can return to Austria. “They are getting the best loving care there can, but it is absolutely devastating, absolutely terrible,” Kammel said.
The two boys are scheduled to fly back to Austria on Monday with Derschmidt’s body, she said. She leaves behind an older son, who is studying at a university in Austria, and a husband, Kammel said. Kammel said she did not know what Derschmidt did for work in Austria.
North Seattle College has been working with government officials to reach the other families.
Faculty, students and staff gathered on campus Friday to grieve the four students.
Original post: As a Ride the Ducks vehicle crossed the Aurora Bridge late Thursday morning, the driver told passengers it was their best chance to photograph Lake Union. Standing in the aisle, Tim Gesner had time to snap a single shot before the rear of the vehicle started to fishtail.
“And just at that moment,” Gesner said, “I heard the driver go: ‘Oh, no!’ ”
Gesner looked up and saw the amphibious vehicle careening into oncoming traffic, headed for the side of a tour bus. The impact hurled him into the air.
“It was like I was in slow motion, bouncing off things and just feeling the pain shooting everywhere,” said the 61-year-old from Orlando, Fla.
When he came to rest, several rows up, he had a bloody nose and his neck and back hurt. But Gesner quickly realized others were in much worse shape.
“I turned and looked, and that’s when I saw the carnage,” he said.
Four people died in the crash, all international students at North Seattle College out for a day of sightseeing and orientation on the tour bus before the start of classes on Monday. An additional 12 people, including students, were critically or seriously hurt, and more than 30 suffered minor injuries.
Gesner — who was in town with his wife, Susan, to visit her son — saw one of his fellow Duck passengers lying on the ground in a pool of blood.
“People I was sitting next to weren’t there … they had been thrown completely out of the back of the Duck,” he said, lying on a gurney in the emergency room at Virginia Mason Medical Center after the crash. His wife sustained a shoulder injury.
Gesner said he walked around the scene, trying to help.
“It just really takes it out of you when you see a paramedic walk up to a lady and put his fingers on her neck and her wrist and she is not breathing,” he said.
Two other witnesses to the deadly collision said something seemed to be wrong with the Duck vehicle moments before the crash.
Brad Volm, 23, of Philadelphia, was driving one of two SUVs also involved in the crash. He collided head-on with the other SUV when it swerved to avoid the bus and the Duck vehicle.
“It all happened so fast,” said Volm, who was on a cross-country trip with a friend.
“I got out of my car and there were bodies just everywhere. People laying in the street.”
Volm said he noticed red fluid leaking from the Duck’s front left tire area just before the crash.
Jesse Christenson, 32, of Portland, was driving north over the bridge behind the Duck vehicle at 11:11 a.m. He saw it signal to move into the left lane, then swerve violently left.
At first, he thought it had a blowout. But then he got a close-up view after the accident. “It looked like the wheel on the Duck bus broke off,” Christenson said. “There was a wheel assembly in front of the Duck boat.”
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said Thursday evening that it was too early to draw any conclusions as to the cause of the deadly crash, which will be investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The Aurora Bridge reopened late Thursday night.
North Seattle College President Warren Brown said 48 students and staff from the school’s international program were on the bus, one of two chartered for the orientation. The group was headed toward Safeco Field.
The international students killed in the crash were identified Friday morning as Claudia Derschmidt, a 49-year-old woman from Austria; Privaudo Putradauto, an 18-year-old man from Indonesia; and Mami Sato, a 37 year-old woman from Japan. The name of a 17-year-old girl from China has not been released because she is a minor.
Faculty, students and staff gathered on campus Friday morning to grieve the four students. Mixon says “sad” doesn’t begin to describe how people are feeling at the diverse college. About 900 of the college’s 4,000 students per quarter are from outside the U.S.
Rujia Xie, a 16-year-old from China, was on the bus. She said glass fell on the passengers’ faces and some people jumped from the bus.
“We didn’t see anything. Just the sound. The smell of gas,” Xie said, holding a bag of ice against bruises on her face as she left the North Seattle College campus, where some of the less seriously injured students were taken.
The left side of the bus was caved in by the collision. Seattle firefighters evaluated more than 50 people for injuries. Bleeding and stunned victims were laid out on yellow tarps in a makeshift triage area on the bridge.
“We’ve had a terrible tragedy,” Mayor Ed Murray said during a news briefing. “The thoughts and prayers of this city go out to everyone — the families and those impacted.”
Ride the Ducks President and CEO Brian Tracey said hearing about the crash was “gut-wrenching.”
“Getting word of the news, the people that were injured, you feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach,” Tracey said outside the Ride the Ducks headquarters near Seattle Center. “We’re admired and loved in this city. It’s devastating.”
The captain of the Duck vehicle was taken to a hospital, but Tracey said he didn’t know the extent of the injuries.
The Ride the Ducks tour voluntarily pulled its vehicles from the street, Murray said.
The distinctive, six-wheeled Duck vehicles are a common sight around downtown Seattle, particularly in summer. Tourists pay up to $29 for what’s described as a “party on wheels,” with singalongs and a route that includes the Space Needle, Pioneer Square and a plunge into Lake Union.
The Duck name is derived from the designation DUKW for vehicles used as landing craft by the U.S. military during World War II.
Seattle’s nearly 40 Ride the Ducks captains are known for changing hats and pulling out puppets during tours, but Tracey said they only use props when stopped at a light or waiting to turn.
The drivers are trained to look straight ahead, even when talking to tourists, he added.
“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.
The vehicles are equipped with multiple cameras and mirrors, and are inspected annually by the state Department of Transportation and the Coast Guard.
But they are not required to have seat belts, which Tracey acknowledged “might not be a bad idea.”
The bus involved in the collision is owned by Bellair Charters & Airporter in Ferndale, Whatcom County. General Manager Richard Johnson told The Bellingham Herald that the driver was not injured but is struggling to grapple with the aftermath of the crash.
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, which regulates Bellair Charters and Ride the Ducks, will inspect vehicle and driver records to determine if the companies complied with safety regulations.
Because those killed in the crash were international students, government officials are working to contact next of kin before releasing their names, according to the college. The 48 students on the bus were from six countries.
Murray said the city has been in touch with the governor’s office and the State Department to assist families of the victims.
The Seattle Hotel Association has offered to provide rooms for victims’ family members as they arrive in Seattle, he said.
Sixteen victims, including those with the most serious injuries, were being treated Thursday night at Harborview Medical Center. Less seriously injured patients were sent to other area hospitals.
Gesner said he and his wife considered prebooking their seats so they could be in the front row for their tour. But now, he’s relieved they were the last to arrive for the 10:30 a.m. tour, because it put them at the rear of the vehicle.
“Talk about fate and everything happening for a reason,” he said.