New Orleans, Louisiana
May 9, 1999
NTSB Number HAR-01/01
NTIS Number PB2001-916201
Abstract: On May 9, 1999, about 9:00 a.m., a 1997 Motor Coach Industries 55-passenger motorcoach, operated by Custom Bus Charters, Incorporated, was traveling eastbound on Interstate 610 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The bus, carrying 43 passengers, was en route from La Place, Louisiana, to a casino approximately 80 miles away in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. As the bus approached milepost 1.6, it departed the right side of the highway, crossed the shoulder, and went onto the grassy side slope alongside the shoulder. The bus continued on the side slope, struck the terminal end of a guardrail, traveled through a chain-link fence, vaulted over a paved golf cart path, collided with the far side of a dirt embankment, and then bounced and slid forward upright to its final resting position. Twenty-two passengers were killed, the busdriver and 15 passengers received serious injuries, and 6 passengers received minor injuries.
The ensuing investigation established that the 46-year-old driver possessed a current commercial driver’s license and medical certificate, but suffered from several life-threatening medical conditions of the kidneys and heart. A witness riding in a van behind the bus stated that before the accident, she saw the bus drifting from the left lane to the center lane, then back to the left lane, before finally crossing the center and right lanes and departing the right side of the road. These observations corresponded with the statements of a passenger, who saw the busdriver “slouch down” as if reaching for a soda and then upright himself before slouching down again. The next thing this passenger remembered was waking up in the hospital.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the driver’s incapacitation due to his severe medical conditions and the failure of the medical certification process to detect and remove the driver from service. Other factors that may have had a role in the accident were the driver’s fatigue and the driver’s use of marijuana and a sedating antihistamine.
The following major safety issues were identified in this accident:
As a result of this accident investigation, the Safety Board makes recommendations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and the State of Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. In addition, the Safety Board is reiterating recommendations from its 1999 bus crashworthiness special investigation report to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.