Four dead as ‘duck boat’ hits students’ bus on Seattle bridge

Published: Friday 25th September 2015 by The News Editor

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A “duck boat” tour vehicle and a charter bus carrying new foreign students to a college event collided on a busy Seattle bridge, killing four people and sending dozens to hospital.

The crash happened on the Aurora Bridge, which carries one of the Washington city’s main north-south highways over a lake. At least two people were in critical condition and many others suffered lesser injuries.

There was no immediate word about the cause of the crash, which involved a military-style tour bus that can also be operated on water. Initial reports described the accident as a head-on collision.

“We didn’t see anything. Just the sound. The smell of gas,” said Rujia Xie, 16, from China, who was on the bus carrying about 45 North Seattle College students and staff. The group was heading to Safeco Field as part of new-student orientation programmes.

She said glass fell on their faces, and some people jumped from the bus.

A driver behind the duck boat said the tour bus and duck boat were travelling in opposite directions. Brad Volm, of Philadelphia, said the amphibious vehicle swerved in front of him and its left front tyre appeared to lock up, sending the vehicle into the oncoming charter bus.

Witnesses described hearing a loud screech and then seeing injured people lying on the pavement or wandering around in a daze.

Nurse Jahna Dyer was walking across the bridge when she came upon the mass of jumbled metal and glass. Some victims were lying on the road and others milled about, seemingly in shock and falling down.

Ms Dyer helped stabilise an injured man’s neck and aided a woman who had a cut lip and glass in her eye. “She was holding my hand and saying thank you,” she said.

John Mundell, at the south end of the bridge when the crash occurred, said: “We could hear the screech and twisted metal. It was surreal.”

When emergency crews arrived, “a lot of people were running at them” pleading for help, Lieutenant Sue Stangl of the Seattle fire service said.

Bloodworks Northwest, a blood-donation organisation, issued an urgent appeal for donors, saying the need for transfusions for crash victims was straining its supply.

The amphibious vehicle is operated by a tour company called Ride the Ducks, which offers tours that are known for exuberant drivers and guides who play loud music and quack through speakers as they lead tourists around the city.

Company president Brian Tracey said: “Our main concern right now is with the families of those hurt and killed.”

The National Transportation Safety Board has sent a team to Seattle to investigate.

Because foreign students were on the charter bus, efforts were being made to contact consulates, city mayor Ed Murray said.

North Seattle College spokeswoman Melissa Mixon said students and staff from the school’s international programme were among those injured and counsellors were on hand.

The bridge has three lanes in each direction and no barrier separating the north and southbound lanes.

The crash happened near Canlis, one of the city’s fanciest restaurants. The restaurant announced it would close for the night in response and employees brought food to first responders.

The safety of the amphibious boats has been questioned before. Lawyer Steve Bulzomi represented a motorcyclist who was run over and dragged by a Ride the Ducks boat that came up behind him at a stoplight in central Seattle in 2011.

“These are military craft that were never designed to navigate narrow city streets,” Mr Bulzomi said. “This is a business model that requires the driver to be a driver, tour guide and entertainer at the same time. It asks too much of the driver.”

In 2010, a tugboat-guided barge smashed into a duck boat packed with tourists that had stalled in the Delaware River in Philadelphia.

The crash sank the duck boat and sent all 37 people aboard into the river. Two Hungarian students – 16-year-old Dora Schwendtner and 20-year-old Szabolcs Prem, visiting the US through a church exchange programme – never resurfaced.

Their families received a settlement totalling 15 million dollars (£9.8m) after filing wrongful-death lawsuits against the tugboat and tour boat owners.

Tug operator Matt Devlin was sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Devlin acknowledged the accident was caused largely by his continuous use of a mobile phone and laptop computer while he was steering the barge.

In July, the family of a woman struck and killed by an amphibious tourist boat in Philadelphia filed a wrongful-death lawsuit.

Lawyers for Elizabeth Karnicki’s family claim the May 8 accident, which occurred during the rush hour, was due in part to “huge blind spots” on the duck boats.

Published: Friday 25th September 2015 by The News Editor

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