Good afternoon and welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Christopher Hart, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr and Member Robert Sumwalt.
Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider the fatal collision involving an amphibious passenger vehicle – or APV – and a motorcoach, on the Aurora Bridge in Seattle, Washington, on September 24, 2015. The APV was designated the DUCK 6, and was operated by Ride the Ducks Seattle.
The driver lost control of the DUCK 6 while traveling northbound across the bridge and veered across the centerline, where it crashed into the southbound motorcoach.
The prow of the DUCK 6 collided at a 21-degree angle with the motorcoach at about 40 miles per hour, cutting along 19 feet of its left side. Tragically, five motorcoach passengers died. Sixty-nine passengers of the motorcoach and the DUCK 6, and both drivers, reported injuries.
On behalf of my fellow Board Members and the entire NTSB staff, I would like to offer our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of those who died. Nothing can replace your loved ones, but we hope the findings and safety recommendations developed during this investigation will help to prevent a similar tragedy in the future. To those who were injured, we hope you are well on the road to a full recovery.
This was not a case of an impaired, fatigued, or distracted driver, or of any inappropriate action by either driver. Rather, as you will hear, the crash was due to a mechanical failure on the DUCK 6 - a fractured left axle housing.
The chain of events leading to this crash began years before the crash. Our investigation found missing layers of safety oversight in the way that APVs are manufactured, determined to be safe to operate, and maintained. This crash demonstrates what can happen when a manufacturer does not follow established rules regarding safety defects.
The DUCK 6 was manufactured by Ride the Ducks International, or RTDI. Ride the Ducks Seattle, which operated as a licensee of RTDI, was responsible for maintaining the vehicle.
RTDI, the vehicle’s manufacturer, was not registered with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as a vehicle manufacturer. Therefore, safety defects could not be addressed through NHTSA’s safety recall process. Furthermore, RTDI did not treat the vehicles as subject to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
RTDI was aware of a safety defect in the axle housing of this model of APV, known as a “stretch Duck.” In 2004, RTDI began to modify stretch ducks with a welded tab that was intended to stiffen the assembly. The DUCK 6, manufactured in 2005, had this welded tab modification.
However, the modification did not sufficiently address the design defect. Furthermore, our investigators found that in the accident vehicle, as well as three other stretch ducks operated by RTD Seattle, the modification was poorly executed.
In 2013, RTDI issued a service bulletin detailing a second modification, this time using a collar weld, which was also intended to strengthen the defective axle housing. But since RTDI was not registered with NHTSA as a manufacturer, the modification was not implemented through NHTSA’s recall process.
Rather, RTD Seattle was notified of the second modification, but did not implement it, so it provided no additional safety benefit. Six additional stretch APVs operated by RTD Seattle had neither the tab-weld modification nor the collar-weld modification.
Moreover, our investigators found that neither the tab-weld nor the collar-weld constituted thoroughly verified and tested repairs.
While operating in the water, as the accident vehicle typically did for about one-third of its trip, the DUCK 6 was subject to Coast Guard regulation and oversight. For the other two-thirds of its typical trip, however, the DUCK 6 traveled on land, where it was treated differently from other passenger vehicles.
The public deserves a consistently high level of safety whether an APV is operating on land or water. This crash, as you will hear, revealed that the safety net that helps to prevent and mitigate the effects of crashes on our roads and highways had deficiencies. While the deficiencies that we found in this investigation are limited to APVs, they can also affect any nearby person or vehicle, as occurred here.
We hope that our recommendations will help prevent future crashes involving APVs, and reduce the injury and loss of life in any crashes that do occur.
Now Managing Director Tom Zoeller will introduce the staff.