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Opening Statement: Board Meeting: Truck-Tractor Double Trailer Median Crossover Collision With Motorcoach and Postcrash Fire on Interstate 5, Orland, California
Christopher A. Hart
NTSB Boardroom and Conference Center, Washington, DC

​Opening Statement

Good afternoon and welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Christopher Hart, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr, Member Robert Sumwalt and Member Earl Weener.

Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider a report on the head-on collision between a truck-tractor double trailer and a motorcoach, and the ensuing post-crash fire, in Orland, California, the evening of April 10, 2014.

The truck-tractor was traveling southbound in the right lane on Interstate-5. It moved into the left lane, crossed a 58-foot-wide median, and emerged into the northbound lanes, still traveling southbound.

There the truck-tractor struck a passenger car, sending it spinning off the highway to the east. Then it crashed head-on into a motorcoach. The motorcoach was carrying 42 high-school students and their three adult chaperones, who were on their way to Humboldt State University for a weekend visit.

The crash and the fire that followed killed the drivers of both the truck and the motorcoach, five high-school students, and all three of their chaperones. The remaining 37 motorcoach passengers suffered injuries of varying degrees. The two occupants of the passenger car sustained minor injuries.

On behalf of the NTSB, I would like to express our condolences to the families who lost their loved ones in this tragic crash, and to the faculty members and students who lost their colleagues and classmates. Our thoughts also remain with the students who suffered injuries, and the families and friends who have supported them through their recoveries.

We turn to today’s report aware of the difficult nature of the safety issues that we will discuss. Please understand that in investigating this crash and fire, our objective was to find ways to prevent such crashes from occurring again or taking such a toll again.

Our investigators have worked diligently to determine what went wrong in Orland that evening last April. We were greatly assisted in this investigation by the work of the California Highway Patrol.  We are all grateful for their continued cooperation and effective assistance in conducting this investigation . 

Our investigators have looked back to see whether previous NTSB recommendations borne of similar tragedies have been adequately addressed, and they have turned their sights toward future safety improvements.

They have identified critical safety issues, such as the lack of adequate fire performance standards for commercial passenger vehicle interiors, the need for pre-trip safety briefings for commercial passenger vehicles, and the need for improvements in commercial passenger vehicle design to facilitate emergency evacuations.

The investigation brought to light double standards in regulations protecting motorcoach passengers versus passengers in other modes of transportation. 

A passenger on an airline, for example, receives a safety briefing prior to departure. Fireproofing on airplanes is designed to withstand a major fire. There is emergency evacuation lighting. Because of these safety improvements in aviation – often resulting from NTSB investigations and recommendations – when plane crashes are survivable, many more passengers now survive. 

Present regulations require none of these safety protections for motorcoach passengers. Today, we will ask why.

This Board regrets that lessons about the specifics of what caused this crash might never be fully known -- because neither the truck-tractor nor the motorcoach was equipped with event data recorders. Data recorders are not required in highway transportation as they are in aviation.

Each year the NTSB releases a Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. This year, our Most Wanted List includes strengthening commercial trucking safety. In 2012 alone, nearly 4,000 people were killed and more than 100,000 people were injured in crashes involving trucks.

In this crash, we were able to rule out many common antecedents to truck-involved crashes. However, event data recorders on commercial trucks – as well as on motorcoaches – are one safety improvement that could have helped us identify ways to prevent the circumstances in Orland, California, in April 2014, from recurring elsewhere in the future.

Now Managing Director Tom Zoeller will introduce the staff.