Four people died and 15 suffered critical injuries when a charter bus and a Ride the Ducks amphibious vehicle collided on the Aurora Avenue Bridge late Thursday morning.
Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said that two passenger vehicles also crashed.
On Thursday evening, North Seattle College confirmed that the four dead were students at the college, who were among 45 students and staff members on board the charter bus. The students were international students, from Austria, Japan, China and Indonesia.
It was an accident that shook local residents, snarled north-end traffic for hours, and seemed certain to raise extended discussions about safety. A state agency that regulates bus operators said it would conduct an investigation, and a state legislator said he was asking highway officials for ideas on making the bridge safer.
In a 6 p.m. Thursday press conference streamed live by KIRO, Mayor Ed Murray said the National Transportation Safety Board is sending a 17-person team to take the lead in the investigation. Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole said her accident investigators will collaborate with the NTSB.
Murray and other officials said the bridge wouldn't be reopened without the NTSB's agreement that all the necessary evidence has been gathered. The bridge did reopen around 11:20 p.m.
A statement from North Seattle College said that counseling services were set up to help students and staffers who had been on the buses. The college said it was still working to gather information on some of those who had been hurt. Murray called the accident "a tragedy with an international perspective."
Various reports said that all four fatalities occurred at the scene.
Harborview, which took the most seriously injured people, said at mid-afternoon that it had received 17 patients. By Friday morning, only one of the 15 patients kept at the hospital was still considered in critical condition, but 11 other patients remained in the intensive care unit.
Emergency dispatchers received the first report of the accident at 11:13 a.m.
The bridge is on a state route; Murray said the city and state share operations of the bridge and that he and Gov. Jay Inslee had already talked about working together in making decisions about questions brought up by the crash.
A journalist with Capitol Hill Seattle posted an excerpt from a press release about a preliminary 2002 study that recommended installing a divider barrier between the two directions of traffic on the bridge. At that time, the state pointed to an eight-mile stretch of Aurora Avenue as being the third most dangerous corridor in Washington.
State Rep. Reuven Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat, said on Twitter that he is asking the state to look into the safety of the bridge and options for improvements. He later sent out the state DOT's final report on Aurora, which noted that the bridge lacked a center barrier, increasing the risk of crossover or head-on accidents. It still has no center barrier.
Carlyle, whose district borders the bridge, told a Crosscut reporter, “We’re looking at the history and the full scope of fatalities and crashes that have occurred and examining the recommendations [from 2003]. Anyone who’s driven on the bridge knows that it’s dangerous. There are now decades of data, and we’re looking at it objectively to see what steps should be taken as a community.”