My heart bleeds for the families and friends affected by the terrible, unthinkable tragedy of September 24th, 2015 when a bus load of international students were on their way to what was supposed to be a fun city tour in Seattle. Ironically, a Duck Boat heading the opposite direction on the Aurora Avenue bridge, had a severe mechanical malfunction and careened directly into the bus, killing 5 students and injuring many other students and staff of the college. I say ironically, because the Duck Boat is often one of the planned “fun” activities for the students.
When I first heard the news, I thought that the students were on the Duck Boat but come to find out, they were on the tour bus and then it dawned on me that, yes! Orientation and a city tour! That’s what they were doing; heading to Safeco Field and Pike Place Market. The students and staff had just completed several days of placement testing, academic advising, arranging class schedules, orientation activities including learning all about the immigration rules, etc. This was to be a break from that; some fun to celebrate their arrival in the states, in Seattle, and at the college. It was to be a time of getting to know each other, the city, and explore. It’s amazing how fast things can change in an instant.
In my previous job, I worked as an International Student Advisor at North Seattle Community College (Before it became North Seattle College). I not only assisted students coming to America to study by issuing the immigration forms necessary to obtain an F-1 Visa, but I also greeted them upon arrival, organized new student orientation, arranged many fun activities (including city tours), lead the International Association (a student leadership club), and was their resource should they need anything in this strange new home. I’ve had Muslim students ask if they could use my office to pray, students from 50 countries cook amazing food for our international pot-lucks, a student from Kyrgyzstan even arranged an international film festival on campus and invited Washington State Congressman Jim McDermott to join us, and he did! These students are so creative, smart and caring, as are the staff…Here we are about 8 years ago on a staff retreat! Amazing bunch!
International students and their families invest a lot of time and money to get here. A LOT of money!! They carefully choose the school they will attend and we always felt lucky to be a school of choice for so many awesome young men and women.
Today I visited the college to offer hugs, flowers and support to my colleagues that I used to work along side. They are still there, dedicated as ever to all of the international students. They are like extended family and for many of the students who don’t have family or friends in Seattle, the staff become their family. It’s a special bond that I’m so proud and honored to have experienced. It is still very close to my heart and this tragedy made that even more clear to me.
I was told of a man who, at the time of the accident, was kayaking in the water way below the Aurora bridge and noticed a piece of paper floating down, spiraling in the breeze, slowly descending like a butterfly back and forth until it finally reached the water. He didn’t know what had occurred above, but decided to paddle over and pick up the piece of paper to remove the litter. He went to a nearby houseboat where a friend lived and discovered on the news that the horrible accident had just happened. When he looked at the piece of paper, he realized it was a permission slip belonging to one of the international students on the bus to go on the Seattle tour. He called the college to ask if they wanted it back. They took his name and number in the meantime since they had so much going on and so many phone calls coming in.
Come to find out, he was also a musician and was so moved by the whole tragic story that he wrote a song about the international students and was invited to perform it at the vigil held on the campus to honor the deceased and the injured. Such a profound affect this has had on so many. Countless people who never knew the students are saddened by the accident.
My current job is at the Port of Seattle which owns and operates Seatac International Airport. Today I found out that some of our own Port employees have been helping out with ensuring a smooth travel experience for the many family members flying into Seattle from the countries of the deceased; Indonesia, Austria, Japan, China, and South Korea. They are assisting them with their baggage, transportation, and translation which can be a hassle when you are emotionally upset and grieving, and may or may not speak English. They had to travel half way across the globe to retrieve the remains of their loved ones; their children; the light of their lives whom they sacrificed so much for to give them a good education and an enriching cultural experience. The utter grief they are feeling is simply unimaginable.
I write the words, but words cannot express my heartfelt sadness. May the five students from around the world who were tragically taken from this earth rest in eternal peace and may the families and friends find the strength to carry on and remember the special moments shared together.
The NSC Foundation has set up a fund to help support the families affected by this terrible tragedy. Please share widely. Thank you.