The driver of a bus carrying a marching band that crashed in Alabama earlier this year was unresponsive just before the bus slammed into a ravine, according to an investigative update issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The early morning March 13, 2018 accident near Loxley, Alabama claimed the life of the driver and caused injuries to all 46 passengers. The motorcoach operated by First Class Tours of Houston, Texas, was traveling westbound on Interstate 10 (I-10) in Baldwin County. The bus was on the final leg of a 4-day chater, transporting a high school marching band from Disney World in Orlando, Florida, where the band had performed, to Channelview, Texas.

How it happened

The motorcoach was traveling below the 70 mph speed limit – at about 59 mph according to preliminary GPS data. A witness reported that as it approached milepost 57, the motorcoach suddenly left the right westbound lane, crossed the left westbound lane, and continued across the median into the eastbound lanes. The motorcoach continued across both eastbound lanes, almost colliding with a passenger vehicle and a truck-tractor semitrailer, then continued onto the shoulder and struck a W-beam guardrail. The motorcoach traveled back across both eastbound lanes onto the median, where it continued west into a ravine between the twin bridge structures that support the eastbound and westbound roadways (figure 1.) The motorcoach came to rest in the ravine on its right side against a bridge pier, 38 feet below the roadway (figure 2.) As a result of the crash, the driver of the motorcoach died and all 46 passengers sustained injuries ranging from minor to serious.

Passenger tried to revive driver

Preliminary evidence showed no signs of braking. A passenger reported that as the motorcoach departed the travel lanes, the 67-year-old driver appeared unresponsive. The passenger attempted to revive the driver in the time before the crash.

An inspection found no vehicle defects that might have contributed to the crash. The motorcoach was equipped with lap/shoulder belts for all seats, and the extent of belt use by passengers is being examined. The NTSB is also evaluating motor carrier operations and driver performance as it relates to the crash.

All aspects of the crash remain under investigation while the NTSB determines the probable cause, with the intent of issuing safety recommendations to prevent similar crashes. The NTSB continues to work with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Highway Patrol, the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office, the Alabama Department of Transportation, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to produce a complete and accurate account of the crash.