A bus carrying Texas high school band members home from Disney World plunged into a ravine before dawn today in Alabama, killing the driver and injuring many passengers, authorities said.
First responders used ropes to rappel down the 50-foot ravine in the middle of Interstate 10 to reach them, and then had to cut some of the victims free from the wreckage, said Baldwin County Sheriff Huey Hoss Mack, who confirmed the fatality.
About 45 people were on board, and were brought to 10 hospitals in Alabama and Florida, either by helicopter or ambulance, he said.
The person killed was the driver of the bus, said Capt. John Malone, who commands state troopers in the Mobile district.
The sheriff said it wasn’t immediately clear what caused the bus to enter the grassy median, which abruptly ends at a steep embankment where the interstate passes over Cowpen Creek. The crash happened at about 5:30 a.m., crunching the bus and leaving the passengers exposed to chilly temperatures.
Rescuers used every piece of equipment on every truck to reach them, Mack said: “This is what we call an all-out.”
Jesus Tejeda came upon the scene as he drove to work, finding dozens of police cars and ambulances stopped on the highway near the overpass. He said he looked down to see the bus lying on its side near the base of a concrete embankment, its front end crumpled.
He said he watched four people being removed from the wreckage, and couldn’t hear any yelling or sounds of panic. “Thank God they were alive but (they) had to take them on (a) helicopter,” he said in an interview conducted by instant messages.
The interstate was closed down in both directions as the injured were flown to hospitals including emergency rooms in Mobile and Pensacola, Florida, plus a free-standing emergency room in rural Baldwin County, said Chris Elliott, a Baldwin County commissioner who helped out at the county emergency management center following the crash.
“Everybody is being transferred to a hospital to at least be checked out,” said Elliott.
A second bus on the spring break trip, driving ahead of the one that crashed, is continuing on to Texas, the sheriff said.
Only hours before the crash, the band’s Facebook page had been updated to show a large group posing outside Disney World.
Channelview Independent School District spokesman Mark Kramer confirmed that the charter bus was carrying Channelview High School band members. Kramer’s statement said the district had only limited details in the immediate aftermath and was in contact with law enforcement in Alabama to get more information.
The bus charter company, First Class Tours of Houston, pledged to help local authorities investigating the crash in a statement that offered prayers for injured and their families.