Federal investigators arrived in Seattle Friday and began examining the wreckage of an amphibious "duck boat" tour vehicle and a charter bus that collided on a bridge, leaving four international college students dead and dozens injured.
"This is a major investigation as far as we're concerned," National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener told reporters.
The dead were among 45 incoming students at North Seattle College on the bus to Safeco Field for an orientation Thursday when the accident occurred. School staff members were also on board.
The school identified the dead as Claudia Derschmidt, a 49-yr-old from Austria; Privando Putradanto, 18, from Indonesia; Mami Sato, 36, from Japan; and a 17-year-old student from China were killed in the 11:15 a.m. accident on the Aurora Bridge, the college said Friday. The name of the Chinese student was withheld due to her age.
Many more were injured in the crash. One person remained in critical condition in intensive care at Harborview Medical Center Friday and 11 others were in serious condition, the hospital said. Two other patients remained in serious condition at another hospital, a Harborview official said.
The students were set to begin their first quarter at the college on Monday.
"The international students that were coming here were really looking at the opportunity for higher education to change their lives and the quality of higher education here the Seattle area and it's absolutely devastating that they would not have that opportunity," North Seattle College President Warren Brown said.
A cause of the crash has not been determined. A witness told NBC station KING5 the amphibious tour vehicle and the charter bus were traveling in opposite directions Thursday when the duck tour vehicle apparently lost control and struck another vehicle and then slammed into the bus.
A multidisciplinary team of NTSB investigators arrived in Seattle Friday afternoon. Weener said the team will look at a variety of factors, including the condition of the vehicles, the nature of the injuries and how they were protected, data captured by vehicle recording equipment, the condition of the bridge and the performance of the drivers.
The goal, Weener said, was not just to understand what happened and why, but to issue safety recommendations to prevent something similar from happening in the future.
He noted that the NTSB has never investigated an accident involving a duck boat on land. "This is a new aspect of amphibious vehicles for us," Weener said.
The company that owns the boat, Ride the Ducks of Seattle, has suspended tours.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said officials will look at whether there were safety issues on the bridge that contributed to the deadly crash. The bridge has no median separating the northbound and southbound lanes.
"We'll figure this out together. We'll figure out how and if we need to make changes on the bridge, if the bridge was an issue or not," Murray said.