Transportation Incidents

Key Points

  • This section covers all major transportation modes: aviation, surface (road, rail, and pipeline) and marine. It covers incidents where a vehicle accident is the primary impact.

  • Some of Seattle's deadliest disasters were transportation accidents, but most occurred over 50 years ago when transportation systems were much less reliable. They are:

    • The sinking of the Dix off of Alki in 1906 that killed 42 people.
    • The 1943 crash of a B-29 bomber that killed 32 people.
    • Another bomber crash in 1951 that killed 11 people.
  • While there have been huge gains in the safety and reliability of transportation systems, large, deadly accidents still happen today. In 2014, a "Ride the Ducks" vehicle collided with a charter bus full of international students on the Aurora Bridge. Five people died and many more were injured.

  • Seattle's transportation systems have become busier, more congested, more tightly interdependent, and lacking in substantial reserve capacity. Disruptions in one part of the system can produce large consequences far from the site of the disruption and can spread from one transport mode to another.

  • Aviation: The direct hazard for Seattle is a large aircraft crashing into a crowded part of the city. The odds of such a crash are low. Between 2012 and 2016, there were only 59 fatal aircraft incidents worldwide involving a loss of control inflight or a crash into terrain. In the context of millions of annual flights, aircraft incidents are rare.425 Crashes are most likely to occur near flight corridors within two miles of an airport. Approaches and departures for SeaTac and Boeing Field, the country's busiest general aviation airport, take aircraft over the city.

  • Marine: Seattle has a large port and ferry system. While incidents in the waters surrounding Seattle could be severe, incidents that impact Seattle directly are the greatest hazard. There have been no deadly marine incidents in the past fifty years, but there have been a number of large ship fires and collisions.

  • Rail: Seattle has an active rail system that has traditionally transported freight but passenger service has been growing in recent years. The main hazards are derailments, collisions, and tunnel incidents. Seattle has several miles of tracks that are exposed to landslides as well. Each week about 1,100 tank cars carrying highly flammable oil pass through the city. One of these trains derailed in 2014, but no oil was spilled.

  • Motor vehicles: Motor vehicle collisions account for roughly 95% of all transportation related deaths and even more injuries. While this number represents mostly single or two-vehicle accidents, Seattle has had a few large -scale motor vehicle incidents.

  • Pipeline: A spur of the Olympic/BP pipeline runs from Harbor Island to Renton, mostly along the City Light power transmission right-of-way. This pipeline carries mostly gasoline. Part of the same pipeline exploded in Bellingham killing three children.

  • Transportation incidents can cause structural failure. Bridges are especially vulnerable. Barges and ships have collided with several Seattle bridges. The First Avenue South Bridge had to be rebuilt after a strike. Fires can also damage bridges. In 1975, the Alaskan Way Viaduct was damaged in a fuel tanker explosion.

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