Driver incapacitation “due to an unknown medical event” has been declared the probable cause of a 2018 motorcoach crash near Loxley, Alabama. The driver was killed, and all 46 passengers were injured.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report identified lack of seatbelt usage as a contributing factor to injury severity. Fifteen passengers suffered serious injuries; Only three passengers told investigators they were wearing seatbelts.
The 2018 Prevost H3-45, operated by First Class Tours of Houston, was traveling west on Interstate 10 near Loxley on March 13. It was returning students and chaperones to Channelview High School of Houston after a band competition at Walt Disney World in Orlando.
NTSB reported the motorcoach crossed the center median and struck the guardrail along the eastbound lanes of I-10. The impact redirected the vehicle into the center median, where it continued for 1,561 feet before dropping into a 38-foot ravine. The motorcoach came to rest on its left side with the roof wedged against a vertical bridge support.
During the sequence of events, “an adult passenger realized the motorcoach driver was unresponsive… got out of his own seat and shook the driver. Again failing to get a response, the passenger grabbed and pulled on the steering wheel.”
NTSB found that the driver, who had been operating motorcoaches since 1990, was operating with only a three-month medical certificate due to high blood pressure.
“The 65-year-old bus driver was five feet, six inches tall, weighed about 265 pounds and was severely obese,” the board stated. His medical conditions included diabetes, gastric reflux and elevated blood pressure and cholesterol. His autopsy found an enlarged heart and “atherosclerotic plaques, resulting in narrowing of up to 50 percent of his right coronary and left anterior descending coronary arteries.”
While the driver had sufficient time off for rest before the trip and his wife stated that he had gotten sufficient sleep, NTSB considered him at “increased risk for obstructive sleep apnea.” The report continued, “High blood pressure can cause damage to multiple organs, which can lead to multiple possibly impairing conditions, including stroke, coronary heart disease/myocardial infarction and heart failure. The driver’s heart disease placed him at increased risk of sudden impairment or incapacitation from a cardiac arrhythmia, which would leave no autopsy evidence. Therefore, although the circumstances of the crash are consistent with sudden driver incapacitation due to a medical event, the exact cause of the driver’s incapacitation could not be determined from the available evidence.”
Passengers did not receive pre-trip safety briefings before departing Texas or Orlando due to a mechanical malfunction of the motorcoach’s video system, NTSB found. Passengers said they were not given a verbal briefing, though the motor carrier’s policies required drivers to deliver a briefing. The operator re-emphasized the policy to other drivers after the accident, the board reported.
The board also lamented the lack of seatbelt usage. “Investigators examined these seatbelts and found 44 showed no evidence of use… At multiple points in the motorcoach it appeared that unbelted passengers had been propelled into the seats in front of them or to the side of them during the crash, as evidenced by the bending, twisting or breaking of seat structures.”
Two passengers were ejected through the windshield and another was partially ejected through a side window. Another unbelted passenger was seriously injured when his head struck a bridge abutment as the motorcoach came to rest. The driver was belted but his seat was ejected through the windshield. The Prevost coach had been put into service three weeks before the accident and had traveled only 4,500 miles.