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4 international students killed in bus, ‘Ride the Ducks’ vehicle crash

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SEATTLE -- Four international students were killed and others were critically injured when a 'Ride the Ducks' tour vehicle crashed into the side of a charter bus on the Aurora Bridge late Thursday morning.

The president of North Seattle College identified the four people who died as international students from Austria, China, Indonesia and Japan. The school was working to contact their families.

"Students and staff members with North Seattle College’s International Program were involved in a vehicle accident while traveling on the Aurora Bridge," read part of the statement. "We extend our deepest condolences to the families of these deceased students, as well as to the students and employee who sustained injuries. No words are adequate to express the absolute pain and sorrow we all feel as a result of receiving this devastating news."

The critically injured patients were transported to Harborview Medical Center following the crash. Dozens of others were transported to area hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries. Overall, firefighters and medics evaluated more than 50 people at the scene.

On Friday, Harborview spokeswoman Susan Gregg said one person remained in critical condition,  and 11 were in serious condition and three were satisfactory. Another two patients were in serious condition at UW Medical Center, she said, and three patients with less serious injuries remain at NW Hospital & Medical Center.

Virginia Mason Medical Center received five victims from the crash. One was transferred to Harborview Medical Center, and four other patients were treated at the hospital and released.

Shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday, nearly 12 hours after the accident, the mangled bus and duck boat vehicle were towed off the Aurora Bridge and driven to a secure warehouse, where they will be examined by National Transportation Safety Board investigators.

Aurora Bridge then reopened for the first time since the accident.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray  said officials were working to contact the deceased  international students' home country embassies.

"Students and employees who were involved in the accident are being transported to campus where counselors will be on hand to support them," said North Seattle College officials.

A truck and an SUV were also involved in the crash.  It is unknown the extent of any injuries sustained by people inside those cars.

All north and southbound lanes of the Aurora Bridge were closed as emergency officials worked the scene.

First reports of the crash came at 11:13 a.m., Seattle Fire officials said. At least 90 emergency responders were called to the scene. The city's emergency operations center has been activated to coordinate response efforts between multiple emergency crews.

Tourists on-board the 'Ride the Ducks' vehicle could been seen crawling out of the wreckage, and a triage center was set up near the scene.

A witness reported seeing the front left tire of the duck boat 'lock up', causing the entire vehicle to violently swerve across multiple lanes and into oncoming traffic and T-bone the charter bus.

Other witnesses confirmed a similar scenario to Q13 FOX News.

It is unclear why the duck boat -- a street vehicle that can double as a boat -- hit the bus as they drove across the six-lane bridge, Lt. Sue Stangl told reporters.

Collision investigators were investigating witness reports of a possible mechanical issue with the Duck vehicle. They were looking at evidence spanning the length of the bridge.

The speed limit on the bridge is 40 mph.

Aurora Bridge was not only closed to all vehicle traffic, but to pedestrians as well. Several bus lines were rerouted to avoid the bridge, metro transit officials said.

Ride The Ducks is a popular tourist attraction in Seattle that started in 1997. The company owns at least 20 amphibious vehicles.

In July, a 'Ride the Ducks' vehicle hit a pedestrian.

'Ride the Ducks' President and CEO Brian Tracey said operations had been suspended for all duck boats.

Tracey called the crash 'devastating.' Nearby, the iconic Seattle restaurant Canlis closed its doors Thursday night, in response to the crash.

"Canlis will close tonight in response to the tragic accident," the restaurant said on its Twitter page. "Join us in thought and prayer for the victims and their families."

Restaurant officials said they planned to try and feed first responders and investigators still on scene later in the evening.

Mayor Murray called the crash a "terrible tragedy."

"There has been loss of life and dozens of injuries," Murray said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their loved ones."

Others in the area offered their condolences for those effected by the crash.

State motor carrier safety officials have opened an investigation. The Utilities and Transportation Commission is the agency that regulates Bellair Charters and Ride the Ducks of Seattle, LLC. They will be inspecting all vehicle and driver records related to the crash to determine if the companies complied with state and federal regulations.

The National Transportation Safety Board said their officials would also be investigating the crash.

North Seattle College planned a community gathering on campus at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

Aurora Bridge history

Aurora Bridge has seen tragedy before involving buses.

In November 1998, a commuter bus plunged off the busy bridge after its driver was shot and thrown from the vehicle, then Seattle police spokeswoman Christie-Lynne Bonner said.

The vehicle, which consisted of two bus carriers connected in the middle with accordion-like flexibility to help in turns, plunged 50 feet, hit an apartment building's roof in the Fremont neighborhood and ended up upright, albeit split in two.

At least three people died in that incident, while many more were hospitalized.

CNN contributed to this report.