NTSB blames sleep apnea for fatal 2001 wreck

A Michigan train wreck that killed two train crew members last year - including a BLE member - was caused because both crew members of the oncoming train were suffering from severe sleep apnea and dozed off, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report approved on November 19.

Engineer Allen Yash and conductor Jesse Enriquez, who were operating a Canadian National freight train southbound toward Detroit, were diagnosed before the accident with obstructive sleep apnea by their private physicians. Neither had been successfully treated and their conditions were not listed in company medical reports, NTSB's investigation found.

The two men fell asleep while traveling in a wooded area near Clarkston, Mich., just before 6 a.m. on Nov. 15, 2001, and did not see a stop signal or the lights of an oncoming train, the report said.

Their train struck another Canadian National train northbound for Flint, killing its 49-year-old engineer, Thomas Landris, and 58-year-old conductor, Gary Chase. Yash and Enriquez were hospitalized with serious injuries.

Brother Landris was a 27-year member of BLE Division 650 (Durand, Mich.). A fiery blaze ensured, forcing the evacuation of 100 homes in the area.

Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, causes a person to periodically stop breathing while asleep. Dr. Mitch Garber, a physician on the NTSB's investigation team, said people with the condition will feel extremely sleepy during the day and they can drift off after a few minutes in a quiet or monotonous environment.

The NTSB recommended that Canadian National requires "fatigue awareness training" for its employees.

It also made the following safety recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration:

 

© 2002 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers