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Bus crash: Investigators focusing on fire

WILLOWS, Calif. -- Federal traffic safety investigators will be paying special attention to fire safety issues as well as whether crash victims were able to escape from the burning motor coach, both important concerns for the federal agency.

Students in the bus have said riders broke windows in order to escape the fire.

“The worst thing for the NTSB is to show up, know that we’ve issued recommendations from a previous accident where lives have been los t … and find out if those recommendations had been closed and enacted, lives could have been saved,” said Michael Rosekind, an NTSB board member who traveled with the investigation team to Orland.

He said he expected investigators to remain in the area for one to two weeks, gathering not just physical evidence but seeking out potential witnesses to the crash.

Rosekind cautioned that the federal agency is only beginning its work and has few answers at this point about what happened.

“While on scene, we will not be determining a probable cause or speculating about the probable cause of this accident,” he said. He pointed out that there was no hard barrier between opposing lanes of the freeway.

Those are required only if lanes are within 50 feet. The interstate lanes where the accident occurred were 60 feet apart, making barriers voluntary.

Ten people, including five students, were killed after a FedEx truck hit their bus head-on on Interstate 5 near Orland, Calif., officials said. The bus burst into flames, and more than 30 people aboard were injured. 

Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones said some of the victims were so badly burned it would take medical and dental records to positively identify them.

The bus was one of three heading to Humboldt State, including two from Union Station in downtown Los Angeles and a third from Fresno.

It was not immediately clear which Los Angeles-area students were on which bus.

Students on the two buses that left from Downtown L.A.'s Union Station were supposed to be divided into two groups: last names beginning with the letters A to L on one bus, M to Z on another, Humboldt State spokesman Frank Whitlatch said. But the teenagers "did what 17-year-olds do," and switched vehicles to sit with their friends.

Only one victim -- Arthur Arzola, a 26-year-old Humboldt advisor -- has been positively identified by coroner's officials. Relatives and school officials have identified a few of the others who have not been accounted for.

At Norte Vista High School in Riverside, a cloud hung over students preparing for prom night as they worried about the whereabouts of classmate Marisa Serrato, whose family told reporters she has been missing since the crash.

Marisa and her twin sister, Marisol, both seniors, chose to skip the dance to visit Humboldt State University, said a classmate who gave only his first name, Elmer.

"We just don't know if they've found her," Elmer said.


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