Duck boats too dangerous, critics say following deadly Seattle crash
SEATTLE — Even before a duck boat crashed into a charter bus in Seattle, killing four international students, calls had emerged for greater oversight and a ban on the military-style vehicles that allow tourists to see cities by road and water.
Critics say 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, said 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.
Some attorneys question the focus of the drivers. In Seattle, tours are complete with exuberant operators who play loud music and quack through speakers.
“This is a business model that requires the driver to be a driver, tour guide and entertainer at the same time,” said Steve Bulzomi, the attorney for a motorcyclist who was run over and dragged by a duck boat that came up behind him at a stoplight in Seattle in 2011.
Brian Tracey, president of Ride the Ducks Seattle, which is independently owned and operated, 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.
State regulators last conducted a comprehensive safety inspection of the Ride the Ducks' fleet, including driver qualifications, employee drug and alcohol testing, in 2012. They issued a satisfactory rating. The company operates 17 amphibious vehicles and employs 35 drivers, according to the state review.
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.
Katie Moody, 30, from Fremont, California, was among 36 tourists aboard the 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.”