Four international students from North Seattle College were killed late Thursday morning on Aurora Bridge in Seattle after an out-of-control duck boat tourist vehicle struck their bus. A fifth international student aboard the bus, who was critically injured in the accident, died days later in a Seattle hospital.
Seattle Duck Tour Accident Updates
The fatal accident, which involved the charter bus, the duck boat tourist vehicle, and two passenger vehicles, happened at around 11:15 a.m. The crashed duck boat is an amphibious vehicle owned and operated by Ride the Ducks of Seattle, which provides sightseeing tours of Seattle that cover both land and water. The Ride the Ducks vehicle itself is a WWII era amphibious vessel that can drive from the road straight into the water.
According to various news agencies, four people were dead by the time firefighters got to the scene. Emergency responders transported 51 people to area hospitals with varying injuries. The duck boat driver was one of those injured.
In the immediate aftermath of the bus accident, two people were listed in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center and 10 were in serious condition. Three other people at Harborview were listed in satisfactory condition. Other victims were taken to the University of Washington Medical Center and Northwest Hospital & Medical Center.
Recent Related Accidents
Missouri Duck Boat Accident Kills 17
On July 19, 2018, a Duck Boat owned by Ride the Ducks Branson sank in Table Rock Lake. Seventeen people, including adults and children, died in the tragedy. The boat went out carrying 31 people despite warnings about a severe thunderstorm. That storm reached Table Rock Lake while two duck boats were still on their excursion. Winds reportedly were as high as 60 miles per hour. One Duck Boat made it back to land safely while the other took on water and sank, killing 17.
Ride the Ducks Branson is owned by the same company, Ride the Ducks, that owned and operated the duck tourist vehicle involved in the Seattle duck tour accident.
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Officials from North Seattle College told reporters Thursday night that the four students pronounced dead at the scene were international students. Several other students from North Seattle College remain in critical condition. A college employee was also seriously injured in the duck tour crash.
The students killed in the tour bus crash have been identified as Claudia Derschmidt, 49 of Austria; Privando Putradanto, 18, of Indonesia; Runjie Song, 17, of China; Mami Sato, 36, of Japan; and Haram Kim of South Korea, who died days after the accident.
A statement released by North Seattle College said: “No words are adequate to express the absolute pain and sorrow we all feel as a result of receiving this devastating news.”
Officials believe 45 students and staff from North Seattle College were on the tour bus, one of two chartered to take passengers to Safeco Field for an orientation. The buses are owned and operated by Bellair Charters, which received a satisfactory safety rating from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in 2013. All aboard both buses were from the school’s international programs, which consist of roughly 900 students out of 4,000 total.
What is ‘Ride the Ducks of Seattle’?
Ride the Ducks is a sightseeing tour company that uses amphibious vehicles to take passengers around the city of Seattle by land and by water. The duck tour boat, as it’s called, takes passengers along the Seattle waterfront, Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market, and the downtown shopping district before the vehicle drives into Lake Union. The company’s website says “it’s a party on wheels that floats.”
The six-wheeled duck boat vehicles are especially common in Seattle, particularly in the summer months. The “duck” name comes from the WWII-era designation “DUKW,” which were vehicles used as landing crafts by the U.S. military.
Tracey told the media that the driver has been with Ride the Ducks for roughly two years. He also said that all Ride the Ducks drivers carry a Coast Guard license and a commercial driver’s license. The sightseeing tour company has said it will suspend tours until Monday out of respect for the victims of Thursday’s accident.
According to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, which conducted a “comprehensive safety inspection” on the Ride the Ducks fleet in 2012, the company received a satisfactory rating.
What Happened in Seattle Duck Tour Accident?
Several witnesses told news agencies that the duck tour boat and the charter bus were going in opposing directions on Aurora Bridge when the duck tour boat seemed to go out-of-control. According to witness Jesse Christenson, the duck tour boat signaled to move into the left lane. When the duck boat began to move over, it lurched suddenly.
All of a sudden, smoke appeared and the front left wheel seemed to pop off of the duck boat vehicle, according to Christenson, who was in a vehicle roughly 450 feet behind the duck tour boat.
The duck tour boat then clipped an SUV before it veered directly into the path of the oncoming bus, which it T-boned on Aurora Bridge. The impact was vicious, caving on the left side of the charter bus.
‘Bodies Just Everywhere…People Laying in the Street’
Brad Volm, a 23-year-old Philadelphia man, was driving one of two SUVs involved in the bus crash. His vehicle ended up colliding head-on with the other SUV when he took evasive action to avoid the bus and the duck tour boat.
Volm recounted his memory of the events leading up to the accident to the Seattle Times, saying that it all happened fast.
“I got out of my car and there were bodies just everywhere. People laying in the street,” he said.
Duck Boat Driver Prior to Accident: ‘Oh No’
As the duck tour boat vehicle was crossing the Aurora Bridge, the driver informed passengers that it would be a great time to shoot a photograph. Tim Gesner from Orlando, Florida got up and stood in the aisle. While he shot a picture of Lake Union, Gesner said the duck tour vehicle began to fishtail. It was at this moment that he heard the duck tour driver utter the words, “Oh no.”
The next thing Gesner remembers is looking up and seeing the duck tour vehicle veering into oncoming traffic. When the two vehicles collided, he flew through the air, bouncing off of things. He felt pain everywhere, but then surveyed the rest of the duck tour vehicle and saw that others were in much worse shape, like the person lying on the ground not far from him who was surrounded by blood.
Gesner, who was traveling on the bus with his wife, was able to walk around the crash scene and offer help. His wife sustained an injured shoulder.
Seattle Duck Tour Accident Investigation
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole told reporters on Thursday evening that at this point in the investigation, it is far too early to draw any conclusions about what caused the fatal tour bus crash on Aurora Bridge. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has sent a team of 17 people out to Seattle to lead the bus crash investigation. Aurora Bridge reopened late Thursday night at around11:00 p.m. local time.
Seattle Duck Tour Accident Updates
Jury Awards $123 Million to Seattle Duck Boat Crash Victims and Their Families
February 7, 2019
The King County jury found Ride the Ducks of Seattle and Ride the Ducks International negligent in the 2015 Seattle Duck Boat crash, awarding $123 million to victims and their families. More than 40 plaintiffs filed the bundled complaint against Ride the Ducks and Ride the Ducks International.
After months of trial proceedings and more than a week of deliberations, the jury found that Ride the Ducks International and Ride the Ducks of Seattle are liable for the crash between a duck boat tour vehicle and a charter bus loaded with students from North Seattle College. Per the verdict, Ride the Ducks International carries 67-70% liability for the crash and Ride the Ducks of Seattle bears 30-33% liability, depending on whether the victims were passengers on the duck boat or the charter bus.
Among the plaintiffs were Felix and Moritz Derschmidt, the sons of Claudia Derschmidt, who was one of five North Seattle College students killed in the tragic crash. At the time of the accident, Claudia and Felix, both from Austria, were studying abroad in Seattle; Claudia at North Seattle College, and Felix at an area high school. The jury awarded the Derschmidt family over $20 million in damages.
“Felix and Moritz Derschmidt are grateful for the jury who listened to their story with such care and respect and who truly appreciated the loss suffered by them, their family, and the community. Their mother was a young and vibrant teacher whom they loved very much,” said Timothy A. Loranger, an attorney for Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman, who represented the Derschmidts.
Loranger was part of the trial team for the plaintiffs, conducting extensive pre-trial work pertaining to liability issues, mechanical defects, and service bulletins. Karen Koehler from the law firm of Stritmatter Kessler Whelan Koehler Moore served as lead trial counsel in the case.
Duck Boat Trial Gets Underway
October 1, 2018
A lawsuit filed by 40 victims of the Seattle Ride the Ducks crash started with pretrial motions on Oct. 1, 2018. The motions request the court allow the plaintiffs access to settlements reached earlier in 2018 between the families of 12 victims and the City of Seattle. In those settlements, the city agreed to pay more than $2 million to the families, while the state also reached a settlement with the same plaintiffs.
According to KIRO News, the current lawsuit is expected to take months and involve complicated testimony. Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Ride the Ducks Seattle, Ride the Ducks International, the City of Seattle, and the state of Washington. The city and the state are named as defendants with the plaintiffs alleging the bridge the accident took place on—the Aurora Bridge—was not safe because it did not have a median barrier. This allowed the Duck Boat to veer into oncoming traffic, where it collided with a tour bus. Seattle is responsible for traffic on the bridge, while Washington State owns the structure.
City of Seattle, State of Washington Settle 12 Lawsuits for $4.4 Million
June 27, 2018
The City of Seattle has agreed to settle 12 lawsuits filed by victims of the Duck Boat crash. The settlement will see the city pay around $2.2 million to crash victims, with the state settling for a similar figure. The city argued that safety issues on the bridge were the state’s responsibility, not the city’s. The judge decided that both city and state were responsible for the bridge’s upkeep, setting the stage for a settlement.
According to KOMO News, the Aurora Bridge—where the crash took place—did not have a median to prevent the Duck Boat from swerving into oncoming traffic.
Nine plaintiffs will share in $2.2 million from the city, while three plaintiffs each receive $75,000 or less separately. Meanwhile, nine plaintiffs will also share around $2.2 million from Washington State. The City and State have not settled with the remaining victims.
Attorney Tim Loranger Attends NTSB Meeting on Seattle Duck Boat Crash
November 15, 2016
Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman wrongful death and personal injury attorney Timothy A. Loranger attended the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) meeting to determine the probable cause of last year’s crash between an amphibious duck boat vehicle and a chartered tour bus in Seattle.
According to the NTSB, Ride the Ducks International (RTDI), improperly designed and manufactured the vehicle failed to adequately address a known issue related to cracks in the axel and failed to register its vehicle with the National Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) which would have provided proper oversight. Ride the Ducks of Seattle (RTDS), the vehicle owner and operator, failed to adequately maintain the vehicle and failed to perform required repairs also relate to the known issue in the axel.
NTSB Says Driver Heard Noise Before Duck Boat Crash
October 31, 2016
This week, the NTSB released its factual report on the duck boat crash in Seattle (the preliminary report on the accident was made available to the public last year). It contains not only facts and reports, but also still photographs captured from the front-facing video recorder on the tour bus. The video of the crash has not yet been released.
In a particularly unsettling image, you can see the duck boat vehicle swerving across the center line directly into the bus’s path less than a second before the collision. Other images in the NTSB report show how devastating the impact was. One photo taken from inside the chartered tour bus shows the 19’ by 6’ hole on the driver’s side of the bus, which is where some of the most significant injuries occurred.
Ride the Ducks Testing Vehicles in Seattle
December 28, 2015
Ride the Ducks vehicles are back on the streets of Seattle, though only in a testing capacity. According to the law firm that represents Ride the Ducks Seattle, the tour company tested a “truck duck” vehicle Monday on city streets. Truck duck vehicles have a different design than the amphibious duck boat vehicle that crashed on the Aurora Bridge in September, killing five people and injuring dozens of others.
The truck ducks, which have a different manufacturer, chassis and axle system than the “stretch duck” vehicle involved in the fatal Aurora Bridge accident, are currently being tested before the state of Washington allows the company to put the vehicles in service. However, the stretch duck vehicles will not be allowed back on Seattle roads until Ride the Ducks demonstrates that the vehicles do not pose a threat to public safety.
Earlier this month, Washington’s Utilities and Transportation Commission announced that it had found more than 400 safety violations committed by Ride the Ducks. According to KIROTV, the tour company’s vehicles have been off the streets of Seattle since the accident, but state regulators will allow Ride the Ducks to resume limited operations if the company submits a safety plan. Ride the Ducks staff has said the company will not include the Aurora Bridge on tours moving forward.
Investigators believe that a faulty axle may have caused the September crash. A final report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is expected to be released late next year.
NTSB Preliminary Report: Axle Failure Apparent Cause of Duck Boat Crash
November 3, 2015
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials have released a preliminary report on a September 24, 2015 accident involving a Ride the Ducks vehicle and a tour bus loaded with international students from North Seattle College. The accident, which happened on the Aurora Bridge in Seattle, killed five people and left others with injuries.
The NTSB confirmed that the main cause of the Ride the Ducks crash appears to be an axle failure. While the investigation is still ongoing, the preliminary report raised concerns over the duck boat vehicle’s front-wheel assembly.
In 2013, dozens of Ride the Duck vehicles around the country were the subject of a service bulletin, which called for the “inspection and reinforcement of the front axle housing assembly.” The Ride the Ducks vehicle that was involved in the Seattle accident did receive a modification to its axle housing prior to the accident, but, according to the NTSB, this modification failed to address the issues raised in the 2013 service bulletin.
The NTSB report does not mention what modification was made to the crashed duck boat vehicle. At this time, it is unclear whether the axle housing modification played any part in the deadly Aurora Bridge accident.
Washington’s Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) issued an emergency order to halt regular Ride the Ducks operations pending a thorough investigation into the company’s fleet and safety operations. Ride the Ducks maintenance and training practices will also be reviewed in the investigation, along with their smaller vehicles. According to a Seattle Times article, the UTC must provide their completed report on December 15.
Ride the Ducks will likely not resume operations until 2016 after a possible hearing in January. The sightseeing tour company will also still need their operating license reinstated by the state before it can resume operations.
Ride the Ducks of Seattle Will Require Two Crew Members
October 13, 2015
The Seattle Ride the Ducks franchise will now require a two-person crew on their amphibious duck boat sightseeing vehicles. The move comes weeks after five people died when a duck boat vehicle collided with a charter bus on the Aurora Bridge in Seattle.
Ride the Ducks Seattle made the announcement today while the company is still suspended from operating duck boat vehicles in the city. The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) is investigating the company while it is under suspension.
In the statement, Ride the Ducks said one crew member will act as a tour guide while a driver can focus solely on navigating the duck boat vehicle. In the September 24 crash on the Aurora Bridge, there was only one crew member on the Ride the Ducks vehicle, working double-time as a driver and as a tour guide.
In related duck boat news, a San Francisco franchise has announced that it will shut down, citing a “challenging business environment.” The city of San Francisco recently passed a law requiring crew members to not double as tour guides and drivers while operating a sightseeing tour vehicle.
According to the Seattle Times, the investigation into the Aurora Bridge crash between the Ride the Ducks vehicle and a tour bus remains under investigation.
First Lawsuit Filed in ‘Ride the Ducks’ Crash
October 5, 2015
A 21-year-old Korean student has filed the first personal injury lawsuit stemming from the ‘Ride the Ducks’ accident on September 24. The fatal crash involved a WWII-era amphibious duck boat vehicle and a tour bus loaded with students from North Seattle College.
In her lawsuit, 21-year-old Na Ra Yoon claims that two Ride the Ducks companies failed to fix a potentially defective axle on the duck boat vehicle involved in the fatal bus crash. Ride the Ducks of Seattle, its driver, and Ride the Ducks International of Atlanta are all listed in the lawsuit as the responsible parties for the injuries Yoon suffered in the accident.
According to the lawsuit, Yoon had been in the country for only eight days prior to the fatal bus crash. She was among a large group of international students from North Seattle College who were traveling on a Bellair Charters bus to Safeco Field for an orientation. Investigators have indicated that the ‘Ride the Ducks’ vehicle swerved into oncoming traffic on the Aurora Bridge and collided with the Bellair Charters bus.
In the aftermath of the crash, witnesses said the duck boat vehicle’s left front wheel appeared to have a mechanical problem in the seconds prior to the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) later found the left front axle to be “sheared off.”
Four students from North Seattle College were pronounced dead at the scene and a fifth died days later in a Seattle hospital. Yoon was knocked unconscious in the bus crash and suffered two fractured hands. She is concerned that she may have sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
According to the Seattle Times, the duck boat vehicle was the subject of a service bulletin, which recommended a repair to the vehicle’s front axle housing assembly.
In 2005, Ride the Ducks International of Atlanta refurbished and sold the duck boat vehicle in question to the independently-owned Seattle branch of Ride the Ducks. Ride the Ducks International has stated that the company distributed a safety advisory in 2013 for 57 duck boat vehicles operating in various locations throughout the U.S.
The Seattle Ride the Ducks branch didn’t make the advised repair, and investigators are now trying to determine why the fix was never made.
State Says ‘Ride the Ducks’ Operated in an Unsafe Manner
September 30, 2015
Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) filed a formal complaint against Ride the Ducks on Tuesday, accusing the Seattle sightseeing tour company of operating at least one of its duck boat vehicles in an “unsafe manner, causing at least five deaths and dozens of injuries” in last Thursday’s fatal crash with a tour bus on the Aurora Bridge.
Washington UTC, which regulates private or investor-owned utility and transportation companies across the state, alleges in the complaint that Ride the Ducks violated federal safety laws and state rules. While last Thursday’s bus crash remains under investigation, the Washington UTC claims that a number of issues could have contributed to the fatal accident, including “the company’s maintenance of its vehicles, driver safety or other operational issues.”
On Wednesday, Ride the Ducks and the Washington UTC reached an agreement that would allow as many as eight of the company’s smaller amphibious duck boat vehicles back in service within a month. These smaller vehicles purportedly have a different design than the “stretch duck” vehicle, which was the model involved in last week’s crash.
Stretch duck vehicles allegedly have unsafe, defective axles. As noted in the Washington UTC complaint, the regulatory agency’s investigation of last week’s crash vehicle has shown “a potentially dangerous failure point” in the axle housing of (Ride the Ducks’) amphibious boat vehicles. Even though this is admittedly an area of concern for the Washington UTC, it will nonetheless allow the smaller duck boat vehicles (known as “truck ducks”) to return to service within 30 days after passing inspection.
Another interesting development in the UTC complaint: the agency will be investigating whether Ride the Ducks received and acted on a service bulletin from Ride the Ducks International advising the company to remedy issues with the alleged unsafe axle housing on its duck boat vehicles.
It was reported earlier this week by the Seattle Times that other Ride the Ducks locations (Stone Mountain Park, Georgia, Branson, Missouri, Newport, Kentucky, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) had complied with the service bulletin. A statement from Ride the Ducks International said the company, which either licenses or owns branch locations across the country, didn’t have any reason to believe that the Seattle location hadn’t complied with the service bulletin. The Seattle Ride the Ducks branch is an independently owned and operated licensee.
Fifth Victim From Fatal Aurora Bridge Bus Crash Identified
September 28, 2015
Authorities with the King County Medical Examiner’s Office have identified the fifth deceased victim from last Thursday’s fatal bus crash on the Aurora Bridge in Seattle. Haram Kim, a 20-year-old student from South Korea, was pronounced dead at Harborview Medical Center on Sunday after succumbing to injuries suffered in the crash between a Bellair charter bus and a duck boat vehicle.
According to Fox 13, Haram Kim passed away with her family at her side. She was one of 45 people from North Seattle College on the tour bus, which was heading to Safeco Field for a student orientation when tragedy struck. Four North Seattle College students were pronounced dead at the scene of the bus crash.
At this time, it is unclear whether the Bellair charter bus was equipped with seat belts. When asked about seat belts on their fleet of buses, a company spokesman for Bellair wouldn’t comment. A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) should be released within the next few days.
Ride the Ducks International: Other Locations Made Axle Repair
September 28, 2015
Ride the Ducks International, which has franchises in several U.S. cities, issued a statement on Monday saying the company had no reason to believe that the Seattle Ride the Ducks branch hadn’t made a recommended axle repair prior to last Thursday’s fatal bus crash on the Aurora Bridge.
In 2013, Ride the Ducks International issued a service bulletin for nationwide franchises of the brand to inspect and repair the front axle housing assembly of the WWII-era duck boat vehicles. The concern at the time was that the axle housing assembly could fail.
According to KOMO News, the 2013 service bulletin applied to 57 duck boats, in five cities, including some in Seattle; Philadelphia; Branson, Missouri; Stone Mountain Park, Georgia; and Newport, Kentucky. Ride the Ducks International said the Seattle branch was the only location that failed to comply with the service bulletin.
Last Thursday, a Ride the Ducks boat vehicle swerved into oncoming traffic on the Aurora Bridge in Seattle and collided with a tour bus loaded with international students and employees from North Seattle College. Four students were pronounced dead at the scene of the bus crash and a fifth died in a Seattle hospital on Sunday.
According to investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) the duck boat vehicle didn’t have the repair recommended in the 2013 service bulletin, and its left front axle was found to be sheared off. Jesse Christensen, who was driving behind the Ride the Ducks vehicle, said the duck boat suddenly “lurched” and the left front wheel “popped off.”
The NTSB is still investigating what caused the fatal bus crash. A preliminary report is expected to be released sometime in the next week.
‘Ride the Ducks’ Suspended From Service
September 28, 2015
Due to last Thursday’s fatal bus crash in Seattle, the state of Washington has suspended the duck boat tour company from operating on public streets or designated water zones. The fatal tour bus crash, which happened on September 24 at around 11:15 a.m., killed five international students from North Seattle College and left dozens of other people with injuries.
The order for ‘Ride the Ducks’ to suspend services was issued on Monday in Olympia during an emergency meeting of the state Utilities and Transportation Commission. According to KOMO News, it will remain in effect until a thorough inspection of all company vehicles has been completed, as well as a review of driver records.
‘Ride the Ducks’ issued a statement saying it agrees with the state’s action and had previously announced the company would cease operations until all its vehicles are deemed safe and roadworthy. The crash between the ‘Ride the Ducks’ vehicle and the Bellair charter bus on the Aurora Bridge is still under investigation.
NTSB: Duck Boat Axle ‘Sheared Off’
September 27, 2015
It will be months before the cause of Thursday’s fatal bus crash on the Aurora Bridge in Seattle will be determined. But officials from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) told reporters on Sunday that the left front axle of the ‘Ride the Ducks’ amphibious vehicle had been “sheared off.”
At this time, investigators aren’t sure what caused the malfunction, or if the axle issue happened before the crash or after. What is certain is that the duck boat vehicle veered into oncoming traffic on the Aurora Bridge and collided with a tour bus filled with international students from North Seattle College. Witnesses recalled seeing one of the duck boat’s left tire “lock-up” before the driver lost control and entered oncoming traffic.
Four people were pronounced dead at the scene of the bus crash—the fifth was pronounced dead today. All the deceased victims were aboard the tour bus. Dozens of other people sustained injuries in Thursday’s bus crash.
According to NTSB member Earl Weener, the duck boat never received an axle repair job that had been recommended in 2013 for at least some amphibious vehicles. Ride the Ducks International reportedly refurbished the WWII-era duck boat in 2005, and warned customers two years ago about the potential for axle failure, even recommending a specific repair and/or increased monitoring, Weener said.
Ride the Ducks of Seattle is the company that owns the crashed duck boat vehicle. According to the San Jose Mercury News, it is unclear whether the company was aware of the warning.
Death Toll in Seattle Bus Crash Now Five
September 27, 2015
A 20-year-old student from North Seattle College who had been clinging to life in critical condition succumbed to her injuries on Sunday, raising the death toll from Thursday’s fatal bus accident to five. The identity of the deceased has not been released.
On Friday, the four bus passengers who had been pronounced dead at the scene of Thursday’s bus crash were identified as Claudia Derschmidt, 49, from Austria; Privando Putradato, 18, from Indonesia; Mami Sato, 36, from Japan; and Runjie Song, 17, from China. North Seattle College President Dr. Warren Brown said the deceased international students had traveled to Seattle in order to improve their lives through higher education, and it is “absolutely devastating” that Thursday’s accident prevented them from fulfilling that dream.
Dozens of other people sustained injuries in the fatal bus crash, which happened at 11:15 a.m. on the Aurora Bridge in Seattle. According to NBC News, five people are currently in intensive care at Harborview Medical Center. Four are listed in critical condition and one is listed as serious.
Thursday’s bus crash involved a WWII-era amphibious duck boat vehicle and a chartered tour bus taking international students from North Seattle College to Safeco Field for orientation. Authorities said over 30 tourists were aboard the ‘Ride the Ducks’ boat vehicle, while the bus was carrying 45 students and North Seattle College employees.