Operators in a powdered metals production facility heard a hissing noise near one of the plant furnaces and determined that it was a gas leak in the trench below the furnaces. The trench carried hydrogen, nitrogen, and cooling water runoff pipes as well as a vent pipe for the furnaces.

Maintenance personnel presumed that the leak was nonflammable nitrogen because there had recently been a nitrogen piping leak elsewhere in the plant. Using the plant's overhead crane, they removed some of the heavy trench covers. They determined that the leak was in an area that the crane could not reach, so they brought in a forklift with a chain to remove the trench covers in that area.

Eyewitnesses stated that as the first trench cover was wrenched from its position by the forklift view more

In early afternoon, a northbound tractor-semitrailer with horizontally mounted tubes filled with compressed hydrogen at approximately 2400 psi (166 bar) was struck by a northbound pickup truck that veered into the semitrailer's right rear axle. According to witnesses, the tractor-semitrailer then went out of control and left the roadway, coming to rest approximately 300 feet (91 meters) from the point of impact. As a result of rotational torque and impact, the end of one tube was sheared off at the bulkhead and left the tube bundle. During the process, some of the tubes, valves, piping, and fittings at the rear of the semitrailer were damaged and released hydrogen. The hydrogen ignited and burned the rear of the semitrailer. In the meantime, the pickup truck had also run off the view more