NTSB looks for root cause of fatal bus crash

Officials conducting investigation on site and at bus company in Houston

By John Underwood / john@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 3/15/18

ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board will be gathering evidence at the scene of a bus crash in Baldwin County for the next seven to 10 days and it …

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NTSB looks for root cause of fatal bus crash

Officials conducting investigation on site and at bus company in Houston

The eastbound exit onto Interstate 10 was blocked Tuesday morning at the Baldwin Beach Express. Both the eastbound and westbound lanes were blocked nearly all day Tuesday after a bus crash in the early morning hours resulted in several injuries and one death.
The eastbound exit onto Interstate 10 was blocked Tuesday morning at the Baldwin Beach Express. Both the eastbound and westbound lanes were blocked nearly all day Tuesday after a bus crash in the early morning hours resulted in several injuries and one death.
JOHN UNDERWOOD / STAFF PHOTO
Posted

ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board will be gathering evidence at the scene of a bus crash in Baldwin County for the next seven to 10 days and it could be more than a year before the investigation is complete, an official with the NTSB said during a press conference held Wednesday at the Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency in Robertsdale.

“The purpose of our investigation is not to find out who caused the crash,” said NTSB Lead Investigator Pete Kotowski. “Our purpose is to find out what caused the crash and how it can be prevented in the future.”

According to a release issued by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, at 5:33 a.m. Tuesday, March 13, a tour bus carrying students from Channelview, Texas, was traveling west on Interstate 10 when it left the roadway, traveled into the median and down an embankment.

The crash occurred approximately three miles east of Wilcox near the 57 mile marker and landed in a ravine on Cowpen Creek in the Wilcox community.

More than 20 people were injured in the crash, according to reports. Killed in the crash was the bus driver, 65-year-old Harry Caligone of Houston.

According to records, Kotowski said, the bus was scheduled to leave from Orlando at 10 p.m. (EDST) Monday night and was roughly an hour away from a driver exchange in Mobile because drivers are only allowed to work in 10-hour shifts.

“It appears at this time that they were operating within the allowable time,” Kotowski said. “That will be a part of our investigation.”

Officials from the NTSB, an independent investigation organization dedicated to improving transportation safety both on the ground and in the air, arrived Tuesday night and began their onsite investigation Wednesday morning, Kotowski said.

Investigators will also be looking at photos provided by the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, along with evidence collected by emergency response crews that were on the scene shortly after the crash on Tuesday.

The NTSB will also be looking at the medical examiner’s report and will be on site at First Class Tours of Houston, the company that owns the charter bus beginning Thursday.

The bus involved in the crash is a relatively new bus, Kotowski said, making just its second run. It was fully equipped with 3-point safety harnesses. It was unknown at the time of Wednesday’s press conference whether or not Caligone was wearing a safety harness or what, if any, recording devices were on board that particular bus.

“Unlike airplanes, buses are not required to carry a ‘black box’ or data recorder,” Kotowski said. “We will determine throughout the course of this investigation if there were any cameras or other recording devices on board and if those devices will provide any information that will help in the investigation.”

The onsite investigation will also look at road conditions and conditions of the bridge over Cowpen Creek where the crash occurred.

“From what we know at this time, the vehicle was traveling westbound on Interstate 10 when it veered off of the highway, crossed into the eastbound lanes and struck a guardrail before crossing back and into the ravine,” Kotowski said.

Investigators will be onsite for about 7 to 10 days, Kotowski said. It could take 12 to 14 months for the NTSB to complete its investigation.

“Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family of the person who died in the crash and all of the families of those who were injured in the crash,” Kotowski said. “We look forward to working with local and state agencies to determine what caused the crash and what can be done to prevent such a crash in the future.”