'No evidence' of pre-collision fire in deadly California crash: NTSB

Sun Apr 13, 2014 9:27pm EDT

1 of 11. A Fed-Ex truck and a chartered bus carrying high school students are engulfed in flames after the truck crossed a divider on Interstate 5, side-swiped a car and smashed head-on into the bus near Orland, California in this picture courtesy of Evan Smutny taken on April 10, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Evan Smutny/Handout

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(Reuters) - An investigation into the northern California crash between a FedEx truck and bus that killed 10 people last week has turned up "no evidence" of a pre-collision fire, contrary to a witness report, authorities said on Sunday.

A witness in a car the truck clipped before crashing into the bus reported flames shooting from underneath the truck's cab before the fatal collision. Further investigation found no evidence of that, said Mark Rosekind, a National Transportation Safety Board member.

"There is no evidence of pre-impact fire located at the accident scene, on the median or on the highway," Rosekind told a news conference. "This is all preliminary, factual information. Nothing is ruled out yet."

Among the dead were the drivers of the truck and the bus, and five teenage students and a college recruiter going to an event at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, as part of a program to help disadvantaged college hopefuls.

More than 30 others were injured in the crash Thursday evening on Interstate 5 about 90 miles north of Sacramento. The students were from the Los Angeles area.

At least one of the injured, a female patient, was listed in critical condition Sunday at the UC Davis Medial Center where another patient had died earlier, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Rosekind said the truck left a southbound lane, crossed a 58-foot (18-meter) median into a northbound lane, hit a Nissan Altima and then struck the bus which was behind the car. There were no barriers in the median, he said.

Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones had said previously that a powerful explosion unleashed by the impact was so loud it was heard throughout the nearby community of Orland.

The fire consumed the truck and the bus and was so intense that it could be days or weeks before some of the bodies can be identified, and investigators will have to rely on dental records or in some cases DNA testing, the NTSB has said.

Rosekind said the NTSB planned to release a preliminary report on the crash in 30 days.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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