Federal officials unveil findings on deadly school bus fire

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The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report on a western Iowa bus fire that killed the bus driver and a student.

According to NTSB, on December 12, 2017 around 6:50 a.m., a 2004 International school bus, driven by 74-year-old Donnie Hendricks was traveling on a 24-foot-wide two-lane gravel road near Oakland in Pottawattamie County, Iowa.

The report indicates the driver turned to the right into a driveway and picked up his first passenger, 16-year-old Megan Klindt. As the bus backed out of the driveway, its right rear tandem wheels crossed a 3-foot-wide earthen strip next to the road and dropped into a 3-foot-deep ditch. Although still in contact with the ground, the right rear drive wheels lost traction, and the bus became stuck with about half of the vehicle positioned across the gravel road.

The report said the driver attempted to move the bus forward out of the ditch. As he was doing so, a fire started in the engine compartment and spread into the passenger compartment. The grass and vegetation at the rear of the bus also caught fire. For unknown reasons, the driver and student did not exit the school bus. Both occupants died as a result of the fire.

The school bus, which was owned and operated by the Riverside Community School District, went into service in 2005. NTSB investigators found that the vehicle had potentially been subject to four recall campaigns.

1) A sensor used in the antilock brake system.
2) A sensor used in the side-mounted swing-out stop arm.
3) The wiring harness to the stepwell heater blower motor.

A fourth recall, addressing a power steering pump failure that could cause a fire did not apply to this specific bus model.

The Iowa State Medical Examiner says both of the victims died of smoke and soot inhalation coupled with thermal injuries. The deaths have been ruled accidental.

NTSB investigators, with personnel from the Pottawattamie County Sheriff's Office, documented the interior and exterior of the school bus and the physical characteristics of the scene. The school bus had a continuous onboard video recording system but it was severely damaged by the fire with no recoverable data.

As the investigation continues, additional examinations of vehicle components and post-fire evidence will be performed to determine the potential origin of the fire. Vehicle inspection requirements, maintenance record requirements, and oversight of school bus operations will also be addressed, as well as human performance and survival factors issues related to the crash and fire. All aspects of the crash remain under investigation to determine the probable cause.

Right side of school bus at final rest.
Left rear of school bus at final rest.