A Ride the Ducks amphibious vehicle carrying 36 passengers slammed into a charter bus full of North Seattle College students and staff on Thursday, September 24, 2005, around 11:15 a.m., leaving four exchange students dead on the Aurora Bridge. The students and staff were on their way to Safeco Field for a new-student orientation.
Of the people involved in the crash, fifteen are listed in critical condition and are being treated in local hospitals, with a total of 51 passengers injured in the collision.
Among those killed was Claudia Derschmidt, a 49-year-old mother from Austria whose 15-year-old son was also on the bus. The other fatalities were 18-year-old Privaudo Putradauto from Indonesia, 37-year-old Mami Sato from Japan, and a 17-year-old female student from China whose name has not been released because she is a minor.
According to news accounts, witnesses driving behind the boat in their SUV saw a red fluid dripping from the duck vehicle’s front left tire, which appeared to “lock up.” The boat soon appeared to veer out of its lane. It crossed over the center lane, unencumbered by a dividing median, and tore apart the side of the charter bus, which was headed in the opposite direction.
More than 80,000 vehicles travel on the Aurora Bridge daily. There have been 144 crashes on the bridge since 2005, but Thursday’s collision is the first fatality since 1998.
A spokesman for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said the safety of duck boats “will obviously be reviewed and evaluated in the days to come.” In a Thursday night press conference, representative of Ride the Ducks stated they had voluntarily taken their vehicles off the street.
The NTSB does not keep national statistics on incidents involving duck boats, as they are not required to comply with federal vehicle standards. NTSB Investigator Earl Weener released a statement indicating the full investigation will include seventeen personnel and could take up to a year. Throughout the course of investigation, factors including the bus, duck, and width of the bridge will all be investigated. This will be the first time the NTSB has investigated an amphibious vehicle crash on land, however this is not the first time questions regarding the safety of the Aurora Bridge have arisen. The NTSB has requested that anyone who witnessed the crash to call in to 206-233-5000.
Though this is the first instance of NTSB investigation, Thursday’s incident is not the first time an amphibious vehicle has been involved in a fatality on land. In July, the family of a woman struck and killed by an amphibious tourist boat in Philadelphia filed a wrongful death lawsuit.