Highway Accident Report

Motorcoach Fire on Interstate 45
During Hurricane Rita Evacuation
Near Wilmer, Texas
September 23, 2005

NTSB Number HAR-07/01
NTIS Number PB2007-916202
PDF

Executive Summary:On September 23, 2005, a 1998 Motor Coach Industries, Inc. (MCI), 54-passenger motorcoach, operated by Global Limo Inc., of Pharr, Texas, was traveling northbound on Interstate 45 (I-45) near Wilmer, Texas. The motorcoach, en route from Bellaire to Dallas, Texas, as part of the evacuation in anticipation of Hurricane Rita, was carrying 44 assisted living facility residents and nursing staff. The trip had begun about 3:00 p.m. on September 22. Fifteen hours later, about 6:00 a.m. on the following day, a motorist noticed that the right-rear tire hub was glowing red and alerted the motorcoach driver, who stopped in the left traffic lane and then proceeded to the right shoulder of I-45 near milepost 269.5. The driver and nursing staff exited the motorcoach and observed flames emanating from the right-rear wheel well. As they initiated an evacuation of the motorcoach, with assistance from passersby, heavy smoke and fire quickly engulfed the entire vehicle. Twenty-three passengers were fatally injured. Of the 21 passengers who escaped, 2 were seriously injured and 19 received minor injuries; the motorcoach driver also received minor injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the accident was insufficient lubrication in the right-side tag axle wheel bearing assembly of the motorcoach, resulting in increased temperatures and subsequent failed wheel bearings, which led to ignition of the tire and the catastrophic fire. Global Limo Inc. had failed to conduct proper vehicle maintenance, to do pretrip inspections, and to complete posttrip driver vehicle inspection reports, thereby allowing the insufficient wheel bearing lubrication to go undetected. Contributing to the accident was the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s ineffective compliance review system, which resulted in inadequate safety oversight of passenger motor carriers. Contributing to the rapid propagation and severity of the fire and subsequent loss of life was the lack of motorcoach fire-retardant construction materials adjacent to the wheel well. Also contributing to the severity of the accident was the limited ability of passengers with special needs to evacuate the motorcoach.

The following safety issues were identified in this investigation:

As a result of this accident investigation, the Safety Board makes recommendations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the National Association of State EMS Officials, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the National Volunteer Fire Council, Motor Coach Industries, Inc., and other motorcoach manufacturers, the United Motorcoach Association, and the American Bus Association. The Safety Board reiterates two recommendations to the U.S. Department of Transportation.