A duck boat that was involved in a deadly crash in Seattle killing four students had not gone under state inspection for at least 12 years, according to a published report.
The Seattle Times reports the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, which regulates motor carriers across the state last conducted a review of Ride the Ducks of Seattle in 2012 and gave the company a “satisfactory” rating.
However, UTC spokesman Amanda Maxwell told the Times on Friday the amphibious vehicle involved in the crash on Thursday wasn’t involved in the review. The vehicle – identified as Duck No. 6 – was last inspected in 2003 and UTC inspectors found no safety violations at that time.
“The vehicle involved in (the) crash was not part of the inspection sample in 2012,” Maxwell said in an email to The Times. “Our inspectors physically look at a sample of cars; the size of the sample is based on the company fleet. For a company this size, our inspector typically conducts inspections on five vehicles, which was what the 2012 inspection consisted of.”
The Times reports the Ride the Ducks company is required to conduct an annual inspection on each vehicle of its fleet. Witnesses said the vehicle appeared to have a mechanical issue with the wheel before it slammed into a tour bus. The driver of the tour bus, owned by Bellair Charters & Airporter bus, reportedly told company officials it appeared the driver of the duck boat lost control before the crash, said Bellair President Richard Johnson.
Critics of amphibious type vehicles had called for greater oversight and even an outright ban on the military-style vehicles that allow tourists to see cities by road and water. They said the large amphibious vehicles are built for war, not for ferrying tourists on narrow city streets.
"Duck boats are dangerous on the land and on the water. They shouldn't be allowed to be used," Robert Mongeluzzi, a Philadelphia attorney, told The Associated Press Friday, renewing his call for a moratorium on their operation nationwide.
His firm represented the families of victims in a deadly 2010 crash near Philadelphia. A tugboat-guided barge plowed into a duck boat packed with tourists that had stalled in the Delaware River, sinking the boat and killing two Hungarian students.
"They were created to invade a country from the water, not to carry tourists," said Mongeluzzi, whose firm now represents the family of a woman killed in May by an amphibious vehicle in Philadelphia.
Brian Tracey, the president of Ride the Ducks Seattle, said Thursday that it was too early to speculate about what happened. "We will get to the bottom" of the crash, he said.
He said the captains are Coast-Guard certified and licensed as commercial drivers, and are required to take continuing education once a month.
About 45 students and staff from North Seattle College were traveling Thursday to the city's iconic Pike Place Market and Safeco Field for orientation events when witnesses said the duck boat suddenly swerved into their oncoming charter bus.
The driver of the charter bus reported that the duck boat "careened" into them on the bridge, Richard Johnson, president of Bellair Charters, said Friday.
Authorities say it's too soon to determine what caused the crash that killed four students from Austria, China, Indonesia and Japan. A National Transportation Safety Board team arrived Friday to lead an investigation that typically takes a year, the agency said.
Katie Moody, 30, from Fremont, California, was among 36 tourists aboard the duck boat when it crashed.
From her hospital bed, where she was recovering from a broken collarbone, she broke into tears Friday as she recounted the accident.
"I just remember it felt like we lost control, and I looked up and saw the bus headed toward us," Moody said. "Hearing the impact, that was the scariest part."
Ride the Ducks Seattle has voluntarily sidelined its vehicles for the time being, said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. He said the NTSB was interested in duck-boat safety because such vehicles are operating in other cities.
The federal agency's investigation in Seattle is the first time it is looking into a duck-boat crash on land, board member Earl Weener said at a news conference Friday. The NTSB has scrutinized the vehicles several times when they have been in accidents on water, he said.
The amphibious boats are remnants from when the U.S. Army deployed thousands of amphibious landing craft during World War II. Once the war was over, some were converted to sightseeing vehicles in U.S. cities.
Thirteen people died in 1999 when an amphibious boat sank to the bottom of Lake Hamilton in Arkansas in an accident the NTSB blamed on inadequate maintenance.
Thursday's crash happened as North Seattle College students were touring the city. The collision on the Aurora Bridge, which carries one of the city's main north-south highways, left behind a tangled mess of twisted metal and shattered glass.
Authorities say 51 people were taken to area hospitals, and 14 remained in intensive care at Seattle hospitals.
Students, faculty and staff of North Seattle College, a diverse public school that serves about 14,000 students, gathered on campus Friday to grieve.
"There are still wounds in our hearts," North Seattle College President Warren Brown said Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.