By Tashauna Thompson
SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA (BNO NEWS) — A truck collided head-on with a charter bus transporting high school students in northern California on late Thursday afternoon, killing 10 people and injuring at least 30 others, authorities confirmed on Friday.
The accident occurred at 5:40 p.m. local time Thursday when a FedEx truck collided with a charter bus on Interstate 5 near Orland, according to the California Highway Patrol (CHP). The charter bus, which was carrying 44 prospective students for Humboldt State University, was en-route to the school’s spring preview event that was scheduled for Friday.
Upon arrival at the scene, emergency responders found the bus fully engulfed in flames.
Authorities confirmed nine people were killed at the scene of the crash, including the drivers of both the bus and the FedEx truck. A tenth victim who was airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento later died of his or her injuries, CHP said.
The last of the deceased was removed from the scene on Friday morning. Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones said positive identification of the deceased may be difficult due to the nature of the sustained burn injuries, prompting the request of medical and dental records.
A total of 31 victims were transported to seven different hospitals in the area with injuries varying from critical to moderate. Witnesses said one of the victims was on fire when he or she fled the bus and was transported to a local hospital with severe burns.
The northbound side of Interstate 5 was closed immediately after Friday’s accident. Emergency responders also set up a mass casualty triage along the southbound side of the freeway to provide immediate care.
Bruce Carpenter, Commander of the CHP’s Willows area, thanked all emergency workers for their prompt response to the incident. “This really was a group effort, there were so many agencies involved, we all worked very well together and the scene was handled very well,” he said.
Investigators believe the FedEx big rig driver may have tried to avoid a Nissan Altima – which was also involved in the crash – when it came in contact with the bus. Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) arrived at the scene on Friday morning to investigate the cause of the accident alongside CHP.
FedEx Corp. Chairman and CEO Frederick W. Smith said he learned “with great sadness” of the accident involving a FedEx Freight vehicle. “First and foremost, I want to express my deepest personal sympathies and the condolences of over 300,000 other FedEx team members to everyone involved in this accident, including the families of the students and others who lost their lives and those who were injured and the families and friends of the FedEx Freight driver who died in the crash,” he said.
Smith added: “It will take some time to fully understand exactly how this accident occurred and why. In the meantime, I want everyone to know that we at FedEx are committed to providing every resource necessary to assist investigators in their efforts to understand what happened.”
The vehicles involved in the incident were removed on Friday as officials continued processing any remaining evidence left at the scene. The southbound lanes of Interstate 5 reopened on Friday while the northbound lanes remained closed, though they were expected to reopen later in the day.
Two other buses that were also transporting students to Humboldt State University were not involved in the accident and made it safely to HSU. The school said it sent its deepest condolences to the friends and families of those affected, adding: “We are doing everything possible to provide support and assistance.”
Superintendent John Deasy of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) said 19 students from 16 schools were on the bus tour to Humboldt State University. “At this time, we know that there have been 10 fatalities, including five students. However, we do not know if those students attended LAUSD schools,” Deasy said. “Students from throughout Southern California were participating.”