A charter bus carrying a Texas high school band careened off of Interstate 10 in Alabama and into a ravine, killing one and injuring dozens more.
The band, from Channelview High School in the Houston area, had just completed a trip to Disney World in Florida and was on its way back when the crash occurred.
The crash happened early Tuesday, and there appears to be the possibility that the driver may have fallen asleep or had a medical episode, which caused the bus to leave the road.
The driver was killed in the crash, and dozens of students and adults were sent flying across the interior of the bus, causing a number of injuries.
One person died, driver Harry Caligone, and about three dozen others were hurt, mostly teenagers, authorities and the bus company said. Interstate 10 was blocked for hours where the accident occurred between Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida.
The cause of the crash wasn’t immediately known, but survivors from Channelview High School in metro Houston described being asleep one moment and tumbling through the air the next.
Student DeWayne Benson, 15, told KTRK-TV by telephone he awoke to hear the band director repeatedly say “Harry” before the bus hit a series of bumps followed by one “huge bump.”
“Some students were stuck under seats, some were on top of other students and there’s a lot of panic to get people out,” said Benson, who was taken to a hospital but wasn’t injured.
Students used cellphones as lights to get out and grabbed blankets to help people outside, he said. Temperatures were in the 40s at the time of the wreck, which happened around 5:30 a.m.
First responders used ropes to rappel down the more than 50-foot (15-meter) ravine in the middle of I-10 and then had to cut some of the victims from the wreckage, said Baldwin County Sheriff Huey Hoss Mack.
There is speculation that the band director’s repeated attempts to get the driver’s attention indicate something may have happened to him just before the crash, possibly a medical episode.
The Channelview Independent School District said 40 students and six adults from the school were on board. Medical officials said at least 37 people, most of them teenagers, were treated at hospitals or other facilities in Pensacola and southwest Alabama for injuries that ranged from minor to very serious.
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. First Class Tours Inc., the bus operator, identified Caligone as a longtime driver with the company.
Channelview High’s graduates include University of Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, who tweeted: “Wow, praying for everyone involved! #PrayforChannelview.”
Josh Torres said his 17-year-old sister, Bianca Torres, was sitting at the rear of the bus when the impact of the wreck tossed her forward several rows. She had pain in her legs and bruising but was otherwise unscathed and taken to a hospital for evaluation, he said.
“All that she remembers is that she felt a bump, then a crash and then the bus flipping onto its side,” Torres said.
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.
Here is video from the scene.