Duck boat captain opens up about deadly Aurora Bridge crash
Earlier this year, Ride the Ducks Seattle and Ride the Ducks International were found negligent in the 2015 duck boat crash on the Aurora Bridge, that claimed the lives of five people on a charter bus. As a result, they were ordered to pay $115 million to dozens of other victims injured in the incident.
Among those victims was Duck Boat Captain Eric Bishop, who was steering the vehicle that fateful day, and lived under a cloud of blame for months after the crash, even after the NTSB cleared him of any wrongdoing in the deadly wreck.
On Friday, Bishop looked to lift that cloud of blame and for the first time — other than his testimony at trial — shared his story, as his attorneys announced his lawsuit against Ride the Ducks International had been settled for $2 million.
Bishop’s attorney’s described him as a hero, describing his fight to maintain control of the duck boat, and his bravery in ensuring all of his passengers were in ambulances or off the vehicle before getting help for his own major injuries. Injuries from the tragedy changed his life forever, and left him with haunting nightmares.
“You just can’t put it into words, you just can’t. It’s been sheer hell,” Bishop said from his attorneys’ office in Kirkland Friday.
“Every day I think about what happened, the lives that were lost. When I see a bus I flinch. I see a semi go by — it’s a white wall, it’s the last thing I saw before impact — flinch. I see something happen on the news – another accident – I flinch … and I get this for the rest of my life,” he added.
He also described what happened that day, as he captained the duck boat across the Aurora Bridge.
“There was a clunk, clunk when there shouldn’t have been,” Bishop recalled.
Then the axle busted, causing the vehicle to veer to the left and into oncoming traffic, as Bishop fought furiously to regain control.
“I was basically in the fight for my life, paralyzed, 37 souls on board,” he described. “That steering wheel felt like Jell-O for just about a millisecond, and then when that wheel broke, it was like … I couldn’t move it. I was standing on the brakes, with both hands trying to get that wheel back to get her to go northbound again … and she did not respond.”
“All I knew is she was headed to the left and I did everything I could to try to bring her back around … try to straighter her out. I was fighting it with every ounce of my body to straighten her out…and she just didn’t respond. I tried all the way through impact,” he continued.
“I knew I didn’t have any options other than to try to get her to go straight, and that was my total concentration to get this thing back under control.”
There was nothing he could do, and Bishop said that if not for the charter bus in the duck boat’s path, the duck with him and his passengers aboard would have plunged off the Aurora Bridge.
“If that bus wasn’t there, there would have been 37 souls lost. The way the bow of the boat is built, and it was a jersey barrier, we would have probably gone right over the edge. Actually, no probably’s about it, we would have careened right off … a long way down,” Bishop said.
“Those five souls gave their lives for 37,” he added.
In the minutes after the crash, Bishop recalled doing all he could to help passengers.
“I was just trying to help everybody that needed help. We had to get the people off the duck that could be — that were mobile — get them off the duck, and then turn around and see who needed most help first,” Bishop recalled.
He made sure they all got of the duck before getting help for himself, despite having nine broken ribs, a face full of glass, an injured back, and other injuries.
“You just do it,” Bishop said, noting he had prior emergency training.
Bishop had only been working for Ride the Ducks Seattle for four or five months at the time of the crash, and said that while he had noticed a few very minor issues, he believed the vehicles were safe.
When NTSB found Ride the Ducks International and Ride the Ducks Seattle to blame for the crash, Bishop was livid, but relieved. The blame had long – and mistakenly – been aimed in his direction.
“It was a great relief, but it was still why? Why did this happen? Why did this have to happen? It could have been prevented. It could have been prevented. Why didn’t somebody do something about this in the first place?” Bishop questioned.
Now that he has settled his lawsuit for his own suffering against Ride the Duck International, Bishop wanted to share his story, to ensure everyone knew he had been completely cleared of any fault by the NTSB, a fact he and his lawyers felt went unnoticed when the NTSB findings came out on 2016, and throughout the recent trial.
His attorneys label him a hero, but Bishop doesn’t feel like one.
“I don’t, I honestly don’t,” he said.
For Bishop, there is a long road ahead not just for physical pain, but for the emotional trauma and nightmares. He sees specialists for both.
Before the crash, Bishop was an avid outdoorsman, climbing Mt. Rainier, boating and piloting. The 58-year-old can’t do those things he loved right now because of his injuries, but he’s not done fighting to get back to the things he loves.
For now, he’s looking ahead and focused on his recovery.
Asked what people need to know about him:
“I’m a good guy.”
And on the importance of being able to set the record straight by telling his story:
“This will always be with me, every living moment it will be with me, but to have the public out there know I did everything I could to prevent this from happening. I did everything possible,” Bishop said.