The National Transportation Safety Board will hold a 2-day public hearing as part of its ongoing investigation into the cause of a bus fire accident that occurred during the evacuation for Hurricane Rita last year. The hearing will convene at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, August 8, 2006, at the NTSB's Board Room and Conference Center, 429 L'Enfant Plaza, SW., Washington, D.C. NTSB Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker has designated Member Kitty Higgins as Chairwoman of the hearing. "Last September, 23 frail, elderly nursing home residents perished when the bus taking them out of harm's way caught fire," said Member Higgins. "We can't change what happened, but we will find out what caused this tragic loss of life."
On September 23, 2005, a 1998 MCI 54-passenger motorcoach operated by Global Limousine, Inc., based in Pharr, Texas, was traveling northbound on Interstate 45 with 44 passengers and the driver as part of an emergency evacuation ordered by the Governor of Texas in anticipation of Hurricane Rita. The passengers were from the Sunrise Nursing Home in Bellaire, Texas, near Houston. It took 2 hours to board the passengers because many needed to be carried or assisted onto the motorcoach by firefighters and nursing staff. When close to Wilmer, Texas, the bus caught fire after 15 « hours en route. Twenty-three of the passengers were fatally injured.
As part of the continuing fact-finding phase of this investigation, the NTSB will examine several issues during the hearing. Topics will include the scope of the bus fire problem, the source of the Wilmer motorcoach fire, fire propagation and fire detection and suppression, planning for and transporting people with special needs, motorcoach evacuations, government oversight of motor carriers and bus brokers, vehicle inspections, and driver training.
"The hearing will contribute important information to our investigation and educate the public on critical safety issues. We will learn the lessons of this accident so that necessary changes can be made by industry and government. Our goal is to make sure this type of accident never happens again," said Member Higgins.
Questioning the witnesses will be the Board of Inquiry, chaired by Member Higgins, a technical panel of NTSB investigators, and representatives of the parties to the hearing will be named shortly.
Information from the hearing will be used by the Safety Board to prepare a final report on the accident, including safety recommendations aimed at preventing similar accidents in the future.
An agenda for the hearing will be posted on the Board's website when available. The hearing will be webcast on the Board's website at www.ntsb.gov.