No injuries as Ball State University bus goes up in flames on I-69

Photo by Maria Strauss/Ball State Daily News
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It was a close call for a bus driver when the Ball State University bus he was driving burst into flames on I-69 Monday afternoon. A former firefighter stepped in to help, and may have saved a life.

Dark, billowing smoke could be seen for miles. It happened in Fishers near 126th St. during the noon hour, and the fire shut down both southbound lanes for a few hours.

Firefighters at the scene say only the bus driver was on board at the time of the fire, and the driver escaped safely. No injuries were reported although traffic was restricted to one lane for several hours as firefighters put out the fire and investigated the cause.

Joe Carnagua, a former firefighter, was driving behind the bus just south of exit 210 when he saw smoke pouring from the rear engine. He said the bus driver pulled over, and then Carnagua pulled over ahead of the bus.

Carnagua said heavy, black smoke was starting to move through the bus. He asked the bus driver, who'd made it out safely, if anyone else was on the bus and the driver explained that it was unoccupied.

"There was nobody on the bus and there wasn't any reason to make entry on the bus at that point," he said.

The only thing unscathed was the lettering etched into the front of the bus.The rest of the vehicle was scorched from the intense flames. Even seats were burned down to their metal frames.

Carnagua added, "He was pretty fortunate. Another minute or two down the highway, he may have not been able to see where he was at. It could have been off the side in a ditch or something at that point in time....It picked up in intensity pretty quick. If he'd stayed on the bus I don't know how much further he could have made it out alone," he said.

"Thank God there was nobody else on the bus and nobody got hurt. I think that's a prayer well answered for everybody today."

The driver was headed to Indianapolis International Airport to pick up the Ball State cheerleaders who had just returned from a national competition in Orlando. They found out about the blaze via social media.

"Very good outcome considering it could have been on its way back and it could have been loaded with students versus this time, it was just a driver on it so much less chance of injury," said Division Chief Mark Elder, Fishers Fire Department.

While the fire and clean up caused a back-up on I-69 lasting about two hours, no one was injured.

It's still in the early stages of the investigation, but fire officials believe there was some sort of mechanical malfunction in the engine.