Documents released Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board include a driver’s daily inspection report warning there was “something up” with the Seattle Duck vehicle later blamed for the 2015 crash that killed five international students.
Just days before a Ride the Ducks vehicle veered into a charter bus on the Aurora Bridge in a deadly collision, a Duck driver reported that something seemed to be wrong with the vehicle.
Investigation photos and documents released Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) included a review of daily inspection reports for the World War II-era amphibious vehicle in the months leading up to the Sept. 24, 2015, crash in Seattle that killed five and injured dozens more.
“I think there is something up with this duck though I acknowledge my experience is light,” a driver wrote in a vehicle inspection report dated Sept. 20, 2015. “This thing is riding rough. The undercarriage makes …”
The comment ends there in the report — it wasn’t legible enough to completely decipher, according to the NTSB documents.
The agency is looking further into that remark, and it isn’t known whether the driver’s concerns were related to the failed front axle that a preliminary investigation blamed for the collision.
In their daily inspection reports, drivers also commented on brake and transmission issues on the ill-fated Duck — though none described problems with the front-axle suspension, according to the documents.
The collision damage depicted in the released photos shows the crumpled interior of the bus, which carried North Seattle College international students, five of whom were killed. The pictures also show the damage the collision wrought to the exterior of the Duck vehicle.
Monday’s release contains only factual information collected by federal investigators, and doesn’t provide analysis, findings, recommendations or probable-cause determinations.
“No conclusions about how or why a crash occurred should be drawn from the docket,” according to a statement accompanying the release. The NTSB will now move forward with analyzing the facts gathered.
Several Ride the Ducks mechanics didn’t appear to be aware of a service bulletin that called for a fix to the axle, according to the released documents.
While the Duck involved in the crash had gotten an earlier modification to its front axle, the vehicle never got a recommended fix outlined in an October 2013 service bulletin. That service bulletin called for “inspection and reinforcement of the front axle housing assembly” for dozens of Duck vehicles around the country.
During a post-crash visit by the NTSB, “none of the five mechanics on duty at the time of the investigator’s visit said they had any knowledge of it [the service bulletin] prior to the accident,” according to the documents. “They also stated they had never seen an axle with the modification done to it.”
In a statement, Pat Buchanan, an attorney representing Ride the Ducks Seattle, said the there was no evidence that the recommended fix “would have made any difference in the accident.”
Regarding the release of documents, “It is important to note that this is simply a release of the information — the NTSB has not made any finding or determination,” Buchanan said in prepared remarks, adding that the company continues to cooperate with the agency.
In its own investigation, the Washington state Utilities and Transportation Commission found hundreds of safety violationsby the Seattle Ducks’ firm.
The commission, which regulates charter buses and tourist vehicles in Washington, imposed a fine and ordered the company to address all of its violations.
Ten of the company’s 20 amphibious Duck vehicles have since been allowed to return to service in Seattle. The company has added new safety measures, and the vehicles now take a different route that avoids crossing the narrow Aurora Bridge.
The driver involved in the crash, Eric Bishop, had no alcohol or drugs in his system and wasn’t using a phone at the time of the collision, according to the NTSB documents.
In an interview summary in the documents, Bishop described hearing a “klunk-klunk” sound before the collision.
“The DUKW [vehicle] then made an un-commanded move to the right,” and Bishop “attempted to steer back to left and discovered the steering had become extremely loose.”
As the Duck vehicle then veered to the left, Bishop tried to steer back right, but “the steering wheel would not turn” and he “applied the brakes, describing it as ‘standing’ on them.”
“He saw he was approaching the motorcoach,” according to the documents, “but with the steering wheel locked and the brakes applied, he could take no other action.”
Multiple lawsuits have been filed in the wake of the crash.