June 6, 2011

NTSB releases N.C. coach crash investigation summary

In its continuing investigation of a 2000 Setra motorcoach, operated by Sky Express Inc., that crashed while traveling northbound on Interstate 95 (I-95); near Doswell, Va., the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) developed the following factual information:
  
On May 30, 2011, at about 10:30 p.m. the 37-year-old motorcoach driver reported for duty in Greensboro, N.C.  About midnight the driver departed Raleigh, N.C. on a trip to New York City with approximately 56 passengers on board. The bus was scheduled to arrive in New York City at 9:00 a.m. on May 31. 

At approximately 4:55 a.m. on Tuesday, May 31, the motorcoach was traveling northbound on Interstate 95 in the vicinity of milepost 103 in Caroline County, Va., when it departed the right side of the highway and rolled over. As a result of the accident, four passengers were killed and the bus sustained extensive damage.

The NTSB is conducting an independent investigation to determine the cause of the crash with the goal of identifying safety recommendations to help prevent similar accidents in the future. The NTSB is working in cooperation with the Virginia State Police, the Virginia DOT, the Federal Motor Carrier Administration, and Setra, the manufacturer of the motorcoach.

The following is a brief summary of the investigative work completed by NTSB investigators to date:

Evidence from the highway and roadside: Preliminary review of the accident scene indicate that the motorcoach was traveling in the right-hand lane of three northbound lanes of Interstate 95, while traversing a left-hand curve when it crossed onto the shoulder at an approximate five-degree angle across a section of rumble strips. The bus traveled entirely off the paved roadway onto the grass embankment and collided with a cable barrier. It traveled approximately 273 feet from its initial departure point and began turning counter-clockwise back toward the pavement. After traversing about 381 feet from the initial departure point, the bus rolled 180 degrees about its longitudinal axis and came to rest upside down about 460 feet from its original departure point from the traveled lane. 

Human Performance Issues: Investigators are conducting an in-depth review of issues related to the driver. They will reconstruct a profile of the driver's activities in the hours and days prior to the crash to help determine what factors, if any, contributed to the accident. Toxicology samples from the driver have been obtained and will be analyzed. 

Vehicle Issues: Investigators are documenting the motorcoach and will be continuing their work over the next several days. The inspection will include a comprehensive evaluation of all vehicle components to include the brakes, engine, steering and suspension. The accident bus had been subject to two recalls issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) related to the front axle wheel hubs and emergency exit labels. Preliminary information indicates that these recall items were corrected on the bus in 2010. 

Investigators are continuing to interview motorcoach passengers. A comprehensive vehicle examination is under way to determine the performance of the coach during the crash and document the seats, seat attachments and establish injury causation for the vehicle occupants. The accident bus is not equipped (nor required to be equipped) with seat belts except for the driver's position.  Investigators also will be examining the structural integrity of the roof and other supporting structures. 

Motor Carrier Operations and Oversight: As part of the investigation, the NTSB is reviewing the company's operating procedures and the effectiveness of the FMCSA's oversight program. Investigators are working in North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and New York City.

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