MOUNT PLEASANT TOWNSHIP (KDKA) — The winding downhill stretch near the Donegal exit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike is familiar to many returning from the Laurel Highlands, Seven Springs or Ohiopyle.
The chain-reaction crash that killed five and injured 60 happened on a curve along the five mile downhill. Now, the National Transportation Safety Board will try to determine the cause. The downhill stretch where the accident occurred can be challenging on a good day, let alone at night in the snow. Investigators are still looking into why the bus swerved and toppled, instigating the deadly chain-reaction crash.
“That bus was unable to negotiate a corner. That bus went up an embankment, rolled over and then was subsequently struck by two tractor trailers,” said State Trooper Stephen Limani.
Investigators said the bus carried more than 50 mostly Asian, non-English-speaking passengers. On its side are the markings of the Ohio Coach lines, which run daily low-cost trips from Chinatown in New York City to destinations in Ohio and Kentucky.
But state police said the carrier is Z&D Tours out of Rockaway, New Jersey and that the bus was headed to Cincinnati. No one at Z&D Tours answered the phone when contacted, but the company has 15 drivers and has no accidents or incurred any safety violations in the last two years, according to the US Department of Transportation Records.
“The weather did start to change,” Trooper Limani said. “There was some precipitation that was coming down.”
The crash happened four miles west of the Donegal exit on a five mile downhill stretch with a four-degree grade–just as it had begun to snow. The turnpike said, however, that the roadway had been treated hourly.
“The road conditions seemed to be fine in that area,” Turnpike spokesperson Renne Vid Colborn said. “We treat all night long with our maintenance crew. They are here 24/7.”
The speed limit on that downhill is 70 miles an hour but is posted with a Chevron that indicates that commercial vehicles should exercise caution. Sources close to the investigation said that some witnesses told the state police that the bus was traveling at a high rate of speed just before the crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sent a team to investigate and determine the cause. Late this afternoon, I spoke with board member Jennifer Homendy who was en route from Washington DC.
“We got word of this accident early this morning and decided to launch a go-team of 14 including me to look at the accident,” NTSB spokesperson Jennifer Homendy said.
NTSB typically takes its time and conducts very exhaustive investigations. They likely won’t make a final determination for several months, but their objective is to find a cause and make recommendations to prevent future accidents.