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Dropped Thermos Might Have Caused Fatal 2017 Bus Crash in Flushing, Feds Say

Stills from surveillance video of the Sept. 2017 crash that saw three killed in Flushing. (NTSB)

Feb. 22, 2019 Staff Report

The cause of the 2017 collision in Flushing that saw three people killed after a coach bus slammed into an MTA bus may be explained by a Thermos bottle lodged between the motorcoach’s brake and gas pedals, according to a federal agency.

The National Transportation Safety Board released its report on the Sept. 2017 crash yesterday, where it said the driver of the Dahlia Group coach bus that blew through a red light and struck an MTA bus at Main Street and Northern Boulevard may have been unable to control the vehicle due to a metal Thermos bottle found by investigators near the pedals at the crash.

The NTSB believes the bottle became lodged beneath or between both the brake and the accelerator pedals, “resulting in uncontrolled acceleration and the inability to apply the brakes” leading up to the early morning collision. The motor coach driver, Raymond Mong, along with an MTA bus passenger and a pedestrian all died as a result.

Investigators arrived at the possibility of the bottle causing the crash after sifting through the coach and MTA bus’ data, including video footage, GPS tracking and video and audio from inside the coach bus.

The Dahlia Group Inc. bus after the collision. (NTSB)

A metal rattling noise could be heard in the motor coach’s audio recording moments before the crash, which investigators believe to possibly be the Thermos falling. Mong, according to the NTSB, could be heard “uttering a single-word remark” as the bus’ speed increases seconds after the noise.

Mong then exclaimed a second time as he approached the intersection, where he swerved to avoid other cars. The bus was at 60 miles per hour when it entered the Main Street intersection.

“Investigators found no evidence that the motorcoach driver’s experience, training, route familiarity or pre-crash activities were factors in the collision,” the NTSB said. Data also revealed that Mong was conscious and aware of the hazardous driving conditions preceding the crash, though unable to control the bus’ speed, and that no mechanical or operational issues were found with the bus.

NTSB investigators re-enact a possible scenario in which a dropped Thermos bottle
causes runaway acceleration and prevents braking. (NTSB photo)

The NTSB also obtained a similar Thermos and found that it could have prevented brake application after lodging it in the pedals of a similar motor coach.

But the agency was careful to note that the obstructed brake pedal, while unable to be ruled out as a possible cause for the crash, could also not be definitely determined as causal to the incident. The NTSB’s official finding of probable cause remains: “The driver’s unintended acceleration of the motorcoach and inability to brake for reasons that could not be conclusively determined from the information available.”

Mong was the only person inside the 56-seat passenger motorcoach at the time of the 6:16 a.m. collision on Sept. 18. The MTA bus had a total of 16 people on board, including the driver.

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