Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Extrication Techniques: Penwell (Texas) bus accident

Some incidents read like they come from a particularly challenging desktop exercise.  A multiple fatality near Penwell in Texas was such an accident.
The report of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) states that on 14 January 2015 at about 0750, a westbound 2015 Blue Bird Vision prison bus operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) struck a section of guardrail on a two-lane bridge.  The bus left the roadway and dropped about 20 feet (6 metres).  Its forward motion caused it to collide with the flatcar of a Union Pacific freight train which was passing on the rail line below the bridge. The bus then hit one of the bridge supports, finishing lying on its left side.  The front section of the bus was torn off altogether
Accident scene (Image courtesy of the Odessa American) 

The bus sustained massive damage and ten passengers (two prison officers and eight inmates) were killed.  The survivors (a prison officer and four inmates) were seriously injured.
Video Footage courtesy of News West 9 


The bus had been built by Blue Bird Corporation with a custom fitout by the TDCJ.  The interior was separated by metal partitions into a driver's area, a segregation area (apparently for inmates in protective custody), a general inmate area and a rear guard area.  The partitions separating the driver's and rear guard's area were reinforced with plexiglass.
Interior of similar bus to that involved in this accident (Image
The 13 windows along both sides of the bus were covered by perforated metal sheeting.  The bus was not required to have emergency roof hatches or emergency exit windows.  The inmates were handcuffed in pairs for transport.  None of the occupants (guards or inmates) were wearing seatbelts.
Collision bus post-accident (Image from

Emergency Response


Emergency responders (principally the Odessa Fire Department) reported difficulty with extricating the prisoners due to their location in the bus, their handcuffs and their entanglement with each other.  In addition, they were partly also covered by the damaged metal partition which prevented most of them being extricated at all.
Emergency responders were best able to access the casualties by using a Husqvarna K-12 circular saw to cut an access point in the roof of the overturned bus (although there was some difficulty cutting through the roof because it was made of two layers).  Once cut, the roof was peeled back using "the jaws" (probably referring to spreaders).  One would infer that this was a variation on the 'side roof flap' technique.

K-12 circular saw (Image courtesy of Team Equipment Inc)
The circular saw was also used later to cut away part of the metal partition inside the bus.  The prisoners' handcuffs were variously unlocked or removed with boltcutters.  One inmate reported that rescuers were cutting up the bodies of the dead to get to the living, but this is not described by the responders.

Casualty Management

Some casualties were ejected from the bus in the accident and a search of the area was undertaken to attempt to locate any other casualties
There were difficulties handling the casualties carefully.  Many of the seats inside the bus were torn loose in the accident.  It was necessary to remove those which remained in order to reach the casualties.  The seats which had been detached became an additional factor making extrication difficult (one would infer that it was difficult to move them without also twisting or bending the casualties).  In addition it was difficult for responders to avoid slipping within the bus because of the liquid that had spilled from the onboard toilets.  The deceased (and presumably other casualties) were moved on spineboards with four responders per board.

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