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Accident Report Detail

Wilmeth Cattle Company Truck/Bridge Transportation Enterprises, Inc. Bus, U.S. 60-84

Executive Summary

‚ÄčAt 6:40 p.m., m.s.t., on December 26, 1972, a leased schoolbus-type vehicle carrying 34 persons was westbound on U.S. 60-84 about 10 miles east of Fort Sumner, New Mexico. A tractor-semitrailer carrying 4 cargo of cattle was eastbound on U.S. 60-84.

As the tractor-semitrailer approached a narrow bridge, the truckdriver observed the headlights of an approaching vehicle, which appeared to be on his side of the road. The truckdriver steered to the right, and the right side of the tractor contacted a crash cushion at the entrance to the bridge. The right rear wheel of the tractor mounted the bridge curb. The tractor snagged the bridge rail and began to rotate clockwise as the right wheels of the trailer struck and mounted the bridge curb. The truck jackknifed on the bridge and continued eastward into the path of the bus. Fourteen feet east of the bridge, the bus struck the left side of the tractor, which then disengaged from the trailer. The frontwall of the trailer crushed the bus rearward. Both vehicles came to rest against the guardrail 21 feet east of impact. No fire ensued.

Nineteen bus occupants, including the driver were killed. The 15 survivors suffered various types of injury. The truckdriver also survived.

The collision between the vehicles resulted from the engagement of the truck-tractor with the bridge end-post and interrupted surfaces of the rail which caused that vehicle to jackknife across and block both traffic lanes of the highway.

Probable Cause

‚ÄčThe National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the initial collision (truck/bridge end-post) was the failure of the truckdriver to keep his vehicle in its proper lane of travel on the highway. Factors that contributed to that condition were: (1) The influence on the truckdriver of two oncoming vehicles, (2) the absence and deceptive placement of light-reflecting traffic control devices, (3) the absence of a solid centerline on the bridge and its approaches, (4) the narrow width of the bridge deck, and (5) the truckdriver's concern that braking would cause his vehicle to jackknife.

Contributing to some of the fatalities and to the severity of many injuries in the bus were:

  1. the inadequate seat anchorage system and
  2. the absence of an integrated occupant restraint system such as seatbelts and highback cushioned seats.

Accident Location: Fort Sumner , NM    
Accident Date: 12/26/1972
Accident ID: 79886

Date Adopted: 2/27/1974
NTSB Number: HAR-74-01
NTIS Number: PB-231852/5

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