Entries in National Transportation Safety Board (7)


Warning Signals Activated 7 Seconds Before Veterans Crossed Train Tracks

Joseph Devenney/Getty Images(MIDLAND, Texas) -- The warnings signals at a railroad crossing were activated seven seconds before a flatbed truck full of wounded veterans crossed the tracks during a parade and was struck by a freight train, according to preliminary details released by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Four veterans were killed and 16 were injured in the accident, which happened on Thursday.

It is not yet clear when the train conductor applied the brake, but the question is one of dozens the board hopes to answer in the coming weeks.

"Our mission is to determine probable cause, which is to determine not just what happened but why," NTSB Board Member Mark Rosekind said. "And that why is critical for us to determine what safety recommendations need to be issued so this does not happen again."

Investigators will be on scene in Midland for seven to 10 days collecting evidence to bring to Washington, D.C., for processing. They will examine both vehicles and the gates that should have blocked the tracks. They will also contact all drivers, victims and witnesses.

Given that the area where the crash happened is a "quiet zone," Rosekind said his team will be looking into whether that played a role in the collision.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Minnesota Bridge Collapse Anniversary: How Safe Are Drivers Now?

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- It's been five years since more than 100 cars were traveling over a bridge on I-35W during a Minneapolis rush hour when it suddenly collapsed, dropping cars from the interstate into the 15-foot-deep Mississippi River below and trapping many passengers inside.  Before they could escape, 13 people died and another 145 were injured on one of the worst bridge disasters in U.S. history.

A formal investigation took more than a year, but once it was finished the National Transportation Safety Board said the cause of the I-35W Mississippi River bridge tragedy was a simple design flaw in the bridge's gusset plates -- metal plates that help connect one steel beam to another.  At that time, NTSB acting chairman Mark Rosenker said the board's investigation would "provide a roadmap for improvements to prevent future tragedies."

But five years after the collapse, Andrew Hermann, the president of the American Society of Engineers, told ABC News that while the nation has an aggressive bridge inspection program, the government is still not spending enough money on updating and maintaining the nation's infrastructure.

"Congress basically lacks the courage to do what is needed to raise the funds," he said.  "Bridges require maintenance, and maintenance and rehabilitation require funding... Politicians like to show up and cut a ribbon on a brand new bridge, but they don't like to show up and applaud a new paint job that may increase the life of a bridge."

At the time of the Minnesota bridge collapse, ABC News reported that the bridge had already been classified as "structurally deficient," meaning that while it was not deemed unsafe enough to close, it did require maintenance.

According to the Department of Transportation, bridges can be put on waiting lists for "replacement or rehabilitation" if they are classified as structurally deficient or "functionally obsolete;" the latter meaning the bridge was built prior to modern standards but was not necessarily unsafe.  A common example of a functionally obsolete bridge is one with road lanes that are too narrow.

When the Minnesota bridge collapsed in 2007, approximately 25.4 percent of the nearly 600,000 bridges in the U.S. were considered either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, according to the DOT.  By 2011, the number dipped to 23.8 percent, still leaving nearly 150,000 bridges in the same categories.

But transportation officials stressed that it does not mean American drivers are traveling on thousands of unsafe bridges -- just ones that may need some type of repair or more frequent inspections.

The Federal Highway Administration "has implemented measures to more closely oversee the inspection process and identify inconsistencies and non-compliance," FHA Administrator Victor Mendez told ABC News.  "While there are a number of bridges that are typically more closely monitored than others based on their condition, they are structurally safe.  Unsafe bridges are closed."

The FHA said that bridges are generally inspected once every two years, depending on the bridge's age and traffic patterns.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Worried About Bus Safety? Now There’s an App for That

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Ever want to monitor the bus you’re riding in up-to-the-minute fashion? There’s a new app for that, and it allows you to check the safety record of a bus company before booking that summer trip.

The National Transportation Safety Board says discount bus lines are one of the fastest growing modes of transportation, but they are seven times more dangerous than the bus lines that run between traditional bus terminals.

In cities like Washington, D.C., dozens of people can be seen queuing up Friday after work in historic DuPont circle for a $25 trip to New York City, and there are popular discount bus companies operating between numerous other cities, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco or Miami and Orlando.

As the summer months approach and vacations are planned, these lines will undoubtedly get longer and although the app can't tell you where the longest line will be, it can tell you which of the bus companies is the safest.

The safety of these buses came into question last year when two were involved in crashes, one including a fatality.

Tuesday the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) unveiled its SaferBus application, which allows motor coach riders to check the safety record of a bus company before booking their ticket. You can even make a complaint about the bus you are riding, while you are riding it.

“This new app gives Americans the information they need to make smart safety decisions when they book their next bus trip,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement to ABC News.  “As college students, families and tour groups start thinking about spring and summer travel, we encourage everyone to use the SaferBus app to look before you book your next bus trip.”

With gas nearing $4 a gallon and expected to continue moving up into the summer travel season, buses are often used as a cheaper travel method.

“SaferBus is FMCSA’s first step at making our thorough safety data on commercial bus companies available through smartphone technology,” FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro said in a statement to ABC News. “By placing a bus company’s safety record in the palm of your hand, SaferBus encourages riders to think safety first, supports our agency’s commitment to make bus travel as safe as possible, and provides good bus companies a way to highlight their positive safety records.”

The free app, the FMCSA is touting as “first of its kind,” provides safety records for nearly 6,000 interstate commercial passenger carriers operating in the United States today.

This app comes after a report released last October by the NTSB highlighted key safety issues, including high accident rates.

Curbside motorcoach operations are described as scheduled trips that begin or end at locations other than traditional bus terminals.

One key finding of the report showed from January 2005 to March 2011 the fatal accident rate for curbside carriers from was seven times that of conventional bus operations (about 1.4 fatal accidents per 100 vehicles). In addition, the report highlighted that FMCSA is overburdened having only about one inspector for every 1,000 motorcoaches.

“Business and safety practices within the growing curbside bus industry create challenges for enforcement authorities and consumers alike when it comes to separating the safe operators from the unsafe operators,” Hersman said during last year’s press conference.

The app is available for iPhone and iPad users and can be downloaded from the iTunes store or from FMCSA’s “Look Before You Book” webpage.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


NTSB to Investigate Helicopter Crash Near Vegas That Killed Five

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(LAS VEGAS) -- The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced early Thursday morning it has launched an investigation into a helicopter crash near Las Vegas Wednesday that killed all five people on board.

The chopper, operated by Sundance Helicopters, was on a sightseeing tour of Hoover Dam about 30 miles away from Las Vegas Strip, when it went down around 5 p.m. in the mountains surrounding Lake Mead.  Officials confirmed that all passengers were killed.

As National Parks Department spokesman Andrew Munoz explains, the scene of the crash is very remote, making it difficult for rescue and investigative teams to reach the site.

"The area itself is rugged...mountains and there's no easy access in by vehicle," Munoz says.

For its part, the NTSB will use a team of 12 members to look into the crash.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Feds Investigating Illinois Train Derailment

File photo. (Stockbyte/Thinkstock)(TISKILWA, Ill.) -- A team of federal investigators has been dispatched to Illinois following Friday morning’s freight train derailment that forced residents of the north-central town of Tiskilwa, about 115 miles west of Chicago, to evacuate and multiple tanker cars to explode.

“We had a derailment of an Iowa Interstate freight train,” Les Grant, a spokesman for Bureau County Emergency Services, told ABC News earlier Friday. “They were hauling approximately 20 to 25 alcohol cars. As a result of the derailment a few of those cars caught on fire.”

No injuries were reported.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Plane's Video Memory Cards Could Hold Clues to Reno Crash

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(RENO, Nev.) -- The World War II-era stunt plane that crashed into a grandstand near Reno, Nevada, killing nine, was equipped with a video camera that could help investigators learn what led to the crash.

National Transportation Safety Board officials said Sunday that the airplane had a recording system, and a box containing memory cards was found at the scene of the crash.

Investigators say they'll analyze the cards to see if there is any footage that could explain what happened.

The crash happened Friday during an air race in Reno, injuring a total of 69 people seated in the VIP seats on the tarmac.  Witnesses said that as the P-51 Mustang Galloping Ghost piloted by Jimmy Leeward rounded the final clubhouse turn, something dropped off the tail of the plane, and that that may have been what caused the problem.

NTSB investigators recovered a component in the area where witnesses say they saw something drop.  Officials said it's unclear whether this is connected to the plane that crashed or another one.

The tragedy in Reno was another near miss for Commander Mark Kelly, husband of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who was shot in the head earlier this year in Tucson.  Kelly was scheduled to fly a P-51 similar to the one that crashed at the Reno air show, though he was not going to be racing.  He apparently did not witness the crash.

As investigators work to piece together what caused the crash, officials are also looking into another fatal air show crash this weekend.

A day after the air race crash in Reno, an antique plane crashed at an air show in Martinsburg, West Virginia, Saturday.  Pilot John Mangan was flying a 1958 T-28 Warbird when it suddenly crashed after completing an acrobatic move with another T-28.  Mangan was killed.  No other injuries were reported.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Air Traffic Controller Asleep on Duty at Reagan National, NTSB Says

US Geological Survey/ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- An air traffic controller at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport fell asleep on duty early Wednesday morning, leaving the control tower silent and forcing pilots of two commercial planes to land on their own, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday.

The controller, who had 20 years of experience, including 17 at Reagan National, was suspended earlier Thursday by the Federal Aviation Administration while its investigation proceeds.

The NTSB report, which does not name the controller, said he had been working his fourth consecutive overnight shift, which runs from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., and that "human fatigue issues are one of the areas being investigated."

"I am determined to get to the bottom of this situation for the safety of the traveling public," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said in a statement announcing the controller's suspension.

Pilots of an American Airlines and United Airlines plane each said they had been in contact with regional air traffic controllers before being handed off to the Reagan National tower for approach and landing.

But as the planes radioed their requests to land in the nation's capital early Wednesday morning, all they heard was silence.

"American 1900, just so you're aware the tower is apparently not manned," a regional controller told the pilots of one plane, according to radio recordings obtained by ABC News.  "So you can expect to go in as an uncontrolled airport."

The pilot executed an airport flyover -- routine aviation procedure -- before landing on his own without help from the ground.

Fifteen minutes later, United flight 628 from Chicago also was unable to contact the Reagan tower.

"The aircraft went in just as an uncontrolled airport," one regional controller said on the recording.  "It's happened before though."

The United pilot also treated the airport as unmanned and landed safely.

Federal transportation officials are now conducting a comprehensive review air traffic controller staffing at airports across the country.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio