(Reuters) - The five people killed in a multi-vehicle pileup on the Pennsylvania Turnpike were identified on Monday as the driver of the tour bus that was the first to crash, two of his passengers, and two UPS employees whose truck plowed into the bus.
A day after Sunday’s predawn wreck, state police and federal safety officials also gave new details of the crash sequence, revealing the bus struck the highway’s concrete center barrier before veering to the right shoulder and careening up a steep embankment.
As the bus rolled back over onto the roadway across both traffic lanes, the driver was thrown from the vehicle, and the bottom of the bus, now lying on its side, was struck by a Fed-Ex tractor-trailer.
Two bus passengers, including a 9-year-old boy, were ejected by the force of the impact before a UPS tractor-trailer also slammed into the bus, demolishing the cab of the truck and killing the two UPS drivers inside.
A car then hit the side of the wrecked UPS truck before being struck by a second UPS tractor-trailer, to be pinned between the two UPS rigs. The occupants of the car and the second UPS truck emerged unscathed, state police said.
All the remaining bus passengers and the FedEx truck occupants - about 60 in all - were taken to nearby hospitals to be treated, but no injuries were feared to be life-threatening.
The crash outside Mount Pleasant Township near Pittsburgh also forced a 16-hour shutdown of the turnpike, a major east-west route across the state, compounding post-holiday travel headaches.
The dead adults were identified as the bus driver, Shuang Qing Feng, 58, of Flushing, New York; passenger Eileen Zelis Aria, 35, from the Bronx; UPS drivers Dennis Kehler, 48, of Lebanon, Pennsylvania and Daniel Kepner, 53, of Lewistown, Pennsylvania. The juvenile victim’s name was not released.
A 20-member National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) team assembled on Monday to begin an inquiry into factors such as driver performance, mechanical issues and roadway design.
State police said deteriorating weather conditions around the time of the wreck may have had a role.
The bus, owned by New Jersey-based Z&D Tour Inc, was headed for destinations in Ohio and Kentucky and was nearing a crew-change stop in Pennsylvania at the time of the crash, safety board member Jennifer Homendy said.
The bus passed its most recent safety inspection in December and Z&D likewise cleared its last two federal compliance reviews, Homendy told a news conference.
She said investigators hope to extract data from an engine-control module on the bus to gain insights, and from a forward-facing video camera on one tractor-trailer.
The NTSB has repeatedly recommended, to no avail, that lap-shoulder harnesses be required for passengers in commercial buses, Homendy added.
“Yet we continue to see accidents in which passengers are ejected,” she said.
Reporting by Steve Gorman in Culver City, California; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Clarence Fernandez