Officials with the California Highway Patrol (CHP) have released recordings of 911 calls from the terrible April 10 accident in which a FedEx tractor-trailer careened out of control and slammed into a tour bus containing 44 high school students. The accident killed five students and three adult chaperones, as well as the drivers of both vehicles.
The 911 recordings conveyed the horror of that accident, with people shrieking in the background of some calls as witnesses described the explosion and fiery wreck to emergency dispatchers. During the first few minutes after the accident, many students were kicking out windows to escape the bus, and there seemed to be a lot of confusion about what had actually happened and even where the accident took place.
In one call, a student who managed to escape the fire could be heard sobbing while describing watching the FedEx truck race across the Interstate 5 median and crash into the bus. The dispatcher calmly told the student that medical help was on its way, and instructed the student to “go as far away as you can safely get” when told the bus was still on fire. In another call, one man who called in said, “I just saw the FedEx truck go across the median and crash” into a bus.
The calls were released as officials with CHP closed the same stretch of Interstate 5 for a short time, in order to attempt to reconstruct the accident. They conducted a number of simulations using vehicles identical to the FedEx truck and the tour bus. Among other things, they hoped to determine how the bus driver may have reacted to the large truck coming straight at him after it emerged from the trees and bushes planted along the median, by driving the same model Serta 2014 bus northbound at about 70 mph, and braking, and figuring out how its speed would have dropped.
Both vehicles were equipped with data recorders similar to the black boxes on planes, but the fire and explosion essentially destroyed the truck’s data recorder. Investigators believe a forensic analysis will be able to recover some data regarding its speed and maneuvering, however. In addition, investigators are poring through a large stack of records, including the driver’s shift log and the truck’s maintenance history. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the FedEx truck’s driver had no prior moving violations.
In addition to the CHP investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is also conducting an investigation. The results of the investigations will take months to determine. It’s too early to know whether driver error or mechanical failure caused the truck to veer out of control and over the median. According to the driver of the car the FedEx truck sideswiped first, before hitting the bus, the truck was already on fire before the crash, but neither the CHP nor the NTSB have been unable to corroborate that account.