The National Transportation Safety Board was able to retrieve electronic control modules, more commonly called “black boxes,” from some of the five vehicles involved in a deadly crash on Interstate 70 in Licking County on Tuesday that killed six people, NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy said in a media briefing Wednesday afternoon.
Homendy said there is also some external video footage that may have come from other vehicles not involved in the fiery crash, which the Ohio Highway Patrol said occurred at 8:52 a.m. and apparently resulted from a backup of an earlier crash further west on I-70 in Franklin County.
In the coming days, the NTSB will document the crash site, Homendy said, and in about two to three weeks the agency will issue a preliminary report. The full investigation and a final report could take as long as 18 months, she said.
Homendy said the order of the five vehicles involved in the crash was a commercial vehicle, a red SUV, the charter bus with students, teachers and chaperones from Tuscarawas Valley schools, another SUV carrying three other chaperones accompanying the bus and a tractor-trailer.
Based on the crash scene, it appeared the tractor-trailer may have crashed into the chaperones’ SUV and the rear of the charter bus, sending those vehicles into flames.
When asked about what caused the fire at the crash site, Homendy said she couldn’t say yet. But, she said it could have been caused by fuel or any one of the vehicles involved in the crash, including the bus, the semitruck or the SUV that was between the two larger vehicles.
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“I don’t want to presume what it is today but that’s something that will be part of our investigation,” Homendy said.
Nine investigators and seven other experts with the NTSB are involved in the investigation. NTSB officials ventured out to the scene of the crash Wednesday, Homendy said.
Together, the NTSB investigators and experts will examine a variety of factors that could have contributed to the crash that killed six Ohioans, including three Tuscarawas Valley school students killed on the bus and the three chaperones killed in the accompanying SUV.
Those aspects include, but are not limited to: road conditions, roadway design, traffic volumes, accident history in the area, driver fatigue and distraction, medical histories, alcohol and drug testing, training and equipment design, Homendy said.
All of the drivers involved in the crash were licensed, said Kenny Bragg, the NTSB’s lead investigator in the accident.
The family assistance team from the NTSB also began reaching out to the families and the school where students killed in the crash attended classes, Homendy said.
“I can’t imagine what you’ve gone through since this crash and what challenges lie ahead of you,” she said, addressing the people affected by the crash.
The NTSB arrived in Columbus on Tuesday to begin investigating the crash involving a semi, a charter bus and other vehicles that killed six people, injured 18 others and shuttered I-70 in both directions for several hours. The incident occurred just before 9 a.m. Tuesday on I-70 west about a half-mile before the Route 310 interchange in Etna.
Three students aboard the bus and three chaperones in an accompanying passenger vehicle died in the crash.
They were identified Tuesday evening as students Wyatt Mosely, 18, and Katelyn N. Owens, both of Mineral City, and Jeffery D. Worrell, 18, of Bolivar; and chaperones Dave Kennat, 56, of Navarre; Kristy Gaynor, 39, of Zoar; and Shannon Wigfield, 45, of Bolivar. The latter was also a teacher.
There were a total of 54 people on the chartered bus at the time of the crash. The three passengers who died on the bus were pronounced deceased at the scene.
Tuscarawas Valley Local Schools, an Ohio school district in Zoarville, said that the bus was carrying students and chaperones on their way to the last day of the Ohio School Boards Association conference in Columbus. Some of the students on the bus were band members who were going to perform at the OSBA conference, which canceled the final day of the conference after learning of the crash.