Ropes, phone lights used in rescue after bus plunge
LOXLEY, Ala. (AP) — Lulled asleep by the humming of their Texas-bound charter bus following a trip to Disney World, members of a high school band were jarred awake before dawn Tuesday when the rig ran off a highway and plunged into a deep ravine.
One person died, driver Harry Caligone, and about three dozen others were hurt, three seriously, authorities and the bus company said. Interstate 10 didn’t reopen in both directions for about 10 hours after 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 KTRKTV by telephone he awoke to hear the band director repeatedly say “Harry” before the bus hit some 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.
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.
Sister-in-law Angela Caligone, 58, of Houston, said Harry Caligone had been a bus driver for 20-plus years, the last 15 with the company, and had “just passed his physical with flying colors.” She recalled him as “funloving, caring, dedicated to his job, dedicated to his kids.”
Channelview High’s graduates include University of Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, who tweeted: “Wow, praying for everyone involved! #PrayforChannelview.”