Federal investigators headed to California Friday to try to determine why a FedEx truck crossed a highway median and slammed into an oncoming bus carrying high school students in an explosive crash that left 10 people dead.
Eric M. Weiss, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said a multi-disciplinary team of highway crash experts left on a flight Friday morning for the crash scene.
The crash happened a little after 5:30 p.m. Thursday on the interstate near Orland, a small city about 160 kilometres north of Sacramento.
Both the bus and truck driver were among those killed in the fiery crash, authorities said.
Many of those on the bus escaped through a window that someone had kicked open running for their lives to the other side of the highway before hearing an explosion and seeing the bus burst into flame, Clavijo said.
Two more explosions soon followed, he said, and he and other survivors looked on knowing others were still trapped in an inferno.
Massive flames could be seen devouring both vehicles just after the crash, and clouds of smoke billowed into the sky until firefighters doused the fire, leaving behind scorched black hulks of metal. Bodies were draped in blankets inside the burned-out bus.
In addition to the drivers, three adult chaperones and five teenage students were killed in the crash, according to the California Highway Patrol. Their identities were not immediately released. The bus carried between 44 and 48 students, four chaperones and the driver, the patrol said.
The bus was one of two that the admissions office at Humboldt State University had chartered to bring prospective students from Southern California to tour the Arcata campus, Humboldt's Vice-President of Administrative Affairs Joyce Lopes said.
The students came from a number of Southern California high schools and Humboldt spokesman Simon Chabel said the college was working to confirm where all the students were from.
A CHP dispatcher says the bus and truck were on opposite sides of the freeway when the truck crossed the median and slammed into the bus, causing an explosion and fire.
Investigators say the truck driver might have been trying to avoid a passenger car that was also involved in the crash, which shut down north- and south-bound traffic on the freeway.
"There was a small white sedan in front of the truck," Heitman said. "The FedEx vehicle did sideswipe the sedan before it crossed the median."
No one in the car was injured.
A first responder who helped set up a triage at the scene said 36 or 37 people received injuries ranging from minor to severe burns, broken legs and noses, and head lacerations.
"The victims were teenage kids. A lot of them were freaked out. They were shocked. They still couldn't grasp what happened," said Jason Wyman of the Orland Volunteer Fire Department.
Bonnie Kourvelas, a FedEx spokeswoman, said in a statement Thursday night: "Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in the tragic accident on I-5 in California. We are co-operating fully with authorities as they investigate."