NTSB releases preliminary report in 5X fatal Teutopolis crash, hazmat leak

Oct. 25—The NTSB has published initial findings in a Sept. 29 crash and ammonia leak on U.S. 40 near Teutopolis, Illinois, that killed five people and severely injured others.

Released Wednesday, the NTSB early report indicates an illegal pass of a tanker truck by a passenger vehicle preceded the crash and spill.

The preliminary report, however, notes that all aspects of the crash remain under investigation, and the agency is still trying to determine the probable cause. One the agency does that, it will make recommendations on how such accidents might be avoided in the future.

About 8:40 p.m. CDT Sept. 29, a tanker truck owned and operated by Prairieland Transport Ltd. of Brownstown, Illinois, was traveling on U.S. 40, the NTSB said. The tank was loaded with about 7,500 gallons of anhydrous ammonia.

Anhydrous ammonia is an inhalation hazard and can burn or corrode organic tissue. Farmers use it to add nitrogen fertilizer to the soil, and it acts as a refrigerant in the cooling systems of large buildings such as warehouses and factories.

The NTSB report said an oncoming eastbound vehicle was approaching the westbound tanker truck, and a westbound passenger vehicle was passing the tanker truck in a no-passing zone.

The driver of the tanker truck said he took he took evasive action by steering to the right.

The truck left the roadway and traveled into a shallow roadside drainage ditch, according to the NTSB. The truck then struck the end of a 12-inch-diameter corrugated metal pipe culvert installed beneath a field entrance, and the vehicle jackknifed and rolled onto its right side with its cargo tank sliding forward.

The exposed front end of the cargo tank then struck the tow ring of a utility trailer that had been parked adjacent to the roadway on private property.

The tow ring punctured the front of the cargo tank, which led to the release of anhydrous ammonia into the atmosphere as a toxic gas in the form of a white cloud, the NTSB said.

The driver of the tanker truck suffered injuries as a result of the crash and exposure to the anhydrous ammonia. Five people in the area died and 11 others sustained injuries ranging from minor to severe due to exposure to anhydrous ammonia, the report says.

At the spot of the crash, U.S. 40 is a non-divided, two-lane asphalt roadway. The posted speed limit was 55 mph.

Numerous vehicles were abandoned at the scene as the individuals fled the crash site on foot. Traffic on I-70 was shut down due to a crash in the construction zone which resulted in these drivers being re-routed onto U.S. 40.

The toxic plume released forced the temporary evacuation of about 500 Teutopolis residents within a 1-mile of the crash site.

Teutopolis is in Effingham County, Illinois, southwest of Terre Haute. It is about a 63 mile drive via Interstate 70, or about 76 miles via U.S. 40.

Parties to the NTSB investigation are the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, Illinois State Police, Illinois Department of Transportation, Teutopolis Fire Protection District, and Mississippi Tank Company.

To see the NTSB report, visit www.ntsb.gov/investigations/Pages/hwy23mh017.aspx

— Mark Fitton of the Tribune-Star compiled this report. Also contributing were the Effingham Daily News, which also is a CNHI newspaper, and the Associated Press.