(Recasts with truck ablaze at impact, adds detail)
By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif., April 12 A witness reported
that a FedEx tractor-trailer that crashed into a bus in northern
California on Thursday killing 10 people was on fire before
impact, the National Transportation Safety Board said on
The driver of a car that had passed the bus just before the
crash said flames were coming from beneath the cab of the truck,
board member Mark Rosekind told a Saturday evening news
conference. The truck clipped the car and then hit the bus,
Among those killed were five teen-aged students en route to
a college recruitment event, along with the drivers of the bus
and truck. Some of the dead were ejected from the bus, he said.
The crash happened on Interstate 5, about 90 miles (145 km)
north of the state capital, Sacramento. The students were from
the Los Angeles area.
The truck left a southbound lane at a 10-degree angle,
crossed a 58-foot median into a northbound lane, hit a Nissan
Altima and then struck the bus which was behind the Nissan,
Rosekind said. There were no barriers in the median, he said.
"There is no indication of tire marks from braking in the
median or in the northbound lane," Rosekind said.
The driver of the Nissan said flames were coming from under
the truck's cab, although her passenger did not see the flames,
Rosekind said. He did not identify the driver or passenger, but
they were interviewed by California news media and Bonnie and
Joe Duran said the truck was on fire before the collision.
"I was heading along in the outside lane and I looked over
and saw the FedEx truck coming straight for me, and he was in
flames already," Bonnie Duran told a CBS television affiliate.
The preliminary investigation showed that the bus driver
swerved to the right in an attempt to avoid the crash.
"There was clearly reaction on the part of the bus driver,"
Rosekind said, adding "We can differentiate that from the truck
driver, where we see no (skid) marks."
Blood samples from the two drivers would be tested for
alcohol, medication or illegal drugs, Rosekind said.
"We don't know whether the FedEx driver had fallen asleep,
whether he experienced a mechanical failure with his vehicle or
whether there was a separate collision on the southbound side
that caused him to lose control," said Lieutenant Scott
Fredrick, the lead California Highway Patrol investigator.
CHP also raised the possibility that a separate collision on
the truck's side of the road could have been a factor.
A powerful explosion from the impact was heard throughout
nearby Orlando, Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones said.
The five students and a college recruiter who were killed
were on their way to visit Humboldt State University in Arcata,
California, as part of a program to help disadvantaged college
hopefuls. More than 30 were injured.
A team of investigators from the National Transportation
Safety Board are likely to remain on-site for about two weeks
for an independent review of the accident.
Most of the FedEx truck, which was hauling two
semi-trailers, was consumed in the fire, Rosekind said earlier.
The fire was so intense it could take days or weeks before
some of the bodies can be identified. Investigators will have to
rely on dental records or in some cases DNA testing, he said.
An NTSB spokesman also said there was a chance that the fire
destroyed any electronic tracking modules on the bus which would
have recorded the speed and braking.
TWO OTHER BUSES ARRIVED SAFELY
The stricken motor coach was one of three buses of students
traveling from Southern California to participate in a spring
break recruitment program. The two other buses had arrived
safely at the campus before the crash.
Nestled near the redwoods about 100 miles (160 kms) south of
the Oregon border, the university every year invites high school
seniors from disadvantaged backgrounds or who may be the first
in their families to attend college to tour the campus.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest in
Southern California, said some of the 19 students from its high
schools who were on the tour rode on the ill-fated bus, but it
could not say whether any of them were among the victims.
The bus was carrying 44 to 48 students and several
chaperones, highway patrol spokeswoman Lacey Heitman said. About
34 people were taken by air and land ambulances to hospitals
with a variety of injuries, police said.
A representative for the Glenn County coroner's office said
on Saturday evening no identities of the dead had been released.
Among those killed was Humboldt State recruiter Arthur
Arzola, 26, who worked out of the Southern California community
of Rancho Cucamonga. A recently engaged couple serving as
chaperones was also among the dead, media reported.
Jonathan Gutierrez, 17, told NBC's "Today" show that after
the crash the bus filled with smoke and students broke windows
to escape. "It was a very surreal moment," he said.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Kevin Murphy in
Kansas City, Dana Feldman, Dan Whitcomb and Alex Dobuzinskis in
Los Angeles and Eric Johnson in Seattle; Additional reporting by
Laila Kearney in San Francisco, Jonathan Allen in New York and
Colleen Jenkins from North Carolina; Writing by Steve Gorman;
Editing by Scott Malone, David Gregorio and Chris Michaud)