A Bellair charter bus and a ‘Ride the Ducks’ vehicle collided on the Aurora Bridge in Seattle on Thursday morning, Sept. 24, killing at least four people.
The Duck boat on wheels smashed into and demolished the side of the bus, which is operated by Ferndale-based Bellair Charters. All four people killed were North Seattle College exchange students aboard the Bellair bus.
Another 15 people were critically injured, and a total of 51 patients were taken to eight local hospitals, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said at an evening news conference.
The Bellair charter bus was carrying 45 students and staff from the 6,000-student college on a chartered trip to Safeco Field in the days before classes start. That bus was not part of the airport shuttle service that runs between Bellingham and Sea-Tac airport.
Witnesses told the Seattle Times that the Duck bus appeared to have some sort of mechanical failure — perhaps a blown tire or tire coming off — and made a sudden hard left turn into the opposite lanes of traffic. It then crashed into two other vehicles and the bus.
Bellair issued a statement Thursday afternoon that read, in part, “We are devastated and heartbroken by the fatalities. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones of the deceased.”
The bus and its driver were based out of Federal Way. The driver was physically OK but struggling to grapple with the aftermath of the crash, said Richard Johnson, general manager of Bellair Charters.
“It is so sad, for the families involved,” Johnson said. “We need prayer.”
Brian Tracey, president of Ride the Ducks, called the crash “devastating.”
“All I care about is the safety of the passengers and the people who were injured on the Duck,” he told the Seattle Times.
Sue Stangl of the Seattle Fire Department said emergency crews were quick to arrive at the bridge over Lake Union after the 11:15 a.m. crash.
“When (firefighters) arrived a lot of people were running at them, obviously saying people needed help,” Stangl said.
Emergency responders laid out yellow tarps to treat the numerous injured and traumatized people involved. Critical cases were raced to Harborview Medical Center.
The college said all students and staff who weren’t injured were returned to campus, where counselors were available to assist them. Another bus full of students was on the same trip, but that bus wasn’t involved in the crash.
Multiple agencies were involved in the crash response. The Seattle Times reported that the state Utilities and Transportation Commission, which regulates both Bellair and the Ducks, will investigate. A team from the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates bus crashes, also was headed to the scene, the Seattle mayor said.
The Ducks are amphibious, military-style tour vehicles are operated by a tour company called “Ride the Ducks” and are known for exuberant drivers and tour guides who play loud music and quack through megaphones as they lead tourists around the city. Duck tours are available in multiple big cities across the U.S.
WHAT ARE DUCK BOATS?
The U.S. Army deployed thousands of amphibious landing craft during World War II that were known then by their military designation, DUKW. Once the war was over, they became used by civilian law enforcement agencies and also converted to sightseeing vehicles in U.S. cities. The DUKW designation was replaced with the duck boat moniker that is used by various tour companies, primarily in cities with abundant water.