4 Students Dead: What Went Wrong In Aurora Bridge Crash? | KUOW News and Information

4 Students Dead: What Went Wrong In Aurora Bridge Crash?

They came to Seattle from around the world: Austria, China, Indonesia and Japan. 

They died on the Aurora Bridge on Thursday.

They were mourned at North Seattle College on Friday, where some students said they were frightened by the collision between a large tourist vehicle known as “the Duck” and a bus.

The amphibious vehicle swerved into a charter bus full of international college students on Seattle's busy Aurora Bridge Thursday morning, killing four and injuring dozens.

The event has made some international students at North Seattle Community College afraid. 

"We need to pay more attention to the safety of the students,” said Jiayue Chen, a student from China who studies at North Seattle Community College.

Those killed were identified Friday as:

  • Claudia Derschmidt, 49, Austria
  • Privando Putradanto, 18, Indonesia
  • Mami Sato, 36, Japan
  • Runjie Song, 17, China

The charter bus was southbound and the duck was northbound when the crash occurred just after 11 a.m.

See a slideshow of crash images from seattlepi.com

"All of a sudden the duck bus swerved across our lane and hit into another tour bus," said Brad Volm, a visitor from Philadelphia who was driving an SUV involved in the collision.

"I got out of my car and there was just bodies just everywhere, just people lying in the street."

The Seattle Fire Department confirmed four deaths. Nearly 50 people were injured and several were in critical condition Friday morning.

North Seattle College said the charter bus was one of two carrying students and staff members from its International Program to Safeco Field and Pike Place Market as part of student orientation. The college said about 45 people were on the bus but it was unclear how many of them were hurt.

It said some of those involved in the crash were brought back to campus, indicating they had not been seriously injured.

An injured person is taken from the scene of the Aurora Bridge bus crash on Thursday.
Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

Photos from the scene showed the side of the bus sheared open. Emergency workers also had to extricate passengers from the duck vehicle. The crash left wreckage mid-span, meaning people leaving the scene on foot had a long way to walk.

"They were taking everybody off the bus," said witness Larry Smith of north Seattle. "The people that could stand, they were pulling them over and they were taking them over and then having them sit along the railing of the bridge."

"There's debris on all these people, there's cuts, people have cut lips," he said. "Just huge trauma going on."

On either edge of the bridge, solemnity.

On the north side, dozens of passengers from one of the tour buses were loaded onto a waiting coach.

On the south side, beyond the reporters, the police and the medical examiner’s van, apron-clad staff of the nearby upscale restaurant Canlis served ice water in oversized plastic cups.

It was not clear what caused the collision.

Volm said he was traveling behind the duck vehicle when a red liquid spewed from around the left front wheel. He said the duck vehicle swerved and slammed into the tour bus. Volm hit the duck then collided with a pickup truck.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a team to investigate the crash.

All lanes on Aurora Avenue North were blocked late into the night.

A photo from the Seattle Fire Department's Twitter feed shows the side of a bus ripped open after a collision with a duck amphibious vehicle on the Aurora Bridge in Seattle.
Credit Seattle Fire Department

Seattle Fleet Began Operating In 1997

The website for Ride the Ducks of Seattle says the company began operations here in 1997 and its fleet now numbers 20 vehicles, which can drive on streets but also enter the water like a boat. They are often seen on Lake Union as the drivers deliver a humorous spiel about Seattle history and geography.

The company says it takes safety seriously.

"All our Captains hold a United States Coast Guard Master’s license, as well as a commercial driver’s license, are CPR and First Aid certified and must complete a rigorous training program before any paying-passengers board their Duck," the company website says. "Our fleet of DUKWs is annually inspected by the USCG and bi-annually by the DOT and our paperwork files are audited frequently by both organizations."

The six-wheel DUKW was developed during World War II for amphibious transport. It squats low in the water, but the passenger compartment rides high up on the pavement.

There is also a Ride The Ducks International, which operates ducks in four other cities in the U.S. and in Guam. That company's website says it provides duck vehicles to the Seattle operation and one in Boston.

Many of the duck vehicles operated today are modified designs from a Ride The Ducks International subsidiary. The modifications were Coast Guard-approved, the company said. It's not clear what version was involved in Thursday's crash.

Previous Collisions

In 2010, two people were killed and several injured when a Ride The Ducks vehicle full of tourists stalled and was run over by a barge on the Delaware River in Philadelphia. The National Transportation Safety Board attributed that collision to issues involving vehicle maintenance, failure to maintain an effective lookout and use of cell phones by crew members.

In May, also in Philadelphia, a pedestrian was struck and killed by a duck tour vehicle.

Ride The Ducks of Seattle has been involved in previous collisions. In July, a pedestrian was injured when he crossed against a light and was hit by a duck, the Seattle Times reported.

And a motorcyclist sued after a Ride The Ducks of Seattle vehicle ran over him in October 2011.

Non-fatal accidents in 2013 in Britain led to a safety crackdown on duck vehicles there.