NTSB investigators looking into the fatal accident on the Aurora Bridge plan to ship a wheel, axle and other components of the Ride the Ducks vehicle involved to the East Coast for further examination.
The Ride the Ducks vehicle involved in Thursday’s deadly bridge crash had its left front axle “sheared off,” and the inside of the wheel well was covered with spatters of fluid, federal investigators have found.
In a news conference Saturday evening, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member Earl Weener said investigators haven’t determined what caused the axle to break or concluded that it was a cause of the crash. But the findings match witness reports that the Duck appeared to have a mechanical problem with a wheel shortly before it fishtailed and careened across the bridge’s centerline, hitting a charter bus.
Weener said investigators plan to ship the wheel, axle and other components to the East Coast for further examination in NTSB labs. And while the wheel is one focus, Weener said investigators still have a lot of work to do in other areas.
“It’s way too early to say anything about probable cause,” he said.
NTSB investigations typically last about a year, and investigators just began getting a close look at the vehicles Saturday. Weener said it took crews half a day to stabilize the bus and Duck inside a warehouse so they would be safe to examine. They also took a vehicle tour of the Aurora Bridge, where the crash occurred.
In pictures posted online, the NTSB showed investigators looking closely at the wheel of the Duck vehicle. Investigators were also just beginning interviews and hadn’t yet talked with the drivers involved, Weener said.
Bellair Charters & Airporter President Richard Johnson has said the driver of the charter bus, which carried dozens of North Seattle College students, told company officials it appeared the Duck driver lost control of the six-wheeled vehicle just before it veered into the bus and killed four passengers.
The NTSB has previously investigated at least two multiple-fatality accidents involving Duck vehicles in other states, both of which occurred on water. The Aurora Bridge accident is the board’s first investigation involving an amphibious vehicle on land.
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Weener reiterated that investigators would like to speak to any witnesses and get copies of any photos or videos showing the crash.
Weener said the Duck vehicle in this case was manufactured in 1945 and refurbished 10 years ago with a General Motors chassis and engine. He said the red fluid found splattered on the inside of the Duck’s wheel well likely came from the transmission, but investigators haven’t reached a final determination on that.
Meanwhile, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC), which regulates commercial motor carriers statewide, inspected the Duck vehicle 12 years ago.
Officials said the company is also required to conduct its own, federally certified annual inspections on each vehicle, and the UTC said records show the company has met that standard. UTC inspectors have those records for 2014 and 2015.
In addition, UTC spokeswoman Amanda Maxwell said the UTC has obtained paperwork showing the company has done daily inspections on its vehicles.
The UTC has also reviewed the Duck driver’s credentials and have found no issues.