A ski tour bus that careened off a road in a mountainous area in central Japan last week, killing 15 people on board, has been found by police to have been in neutral at the time of the crash, according to investigative sources.

Engine braking, which could have helped to keep the vehicle's speed under control as it descended the slope in the resort town of Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture, would not have been available in neutral.

The sources said Thursday that Nagano Prefectural Police are investigating the possibility that 65-year-old bus driver Hiroshi Tsuchiya, among the deceased, may have accidentally put the transmission in neutral.