This story has been updated to include information on a National Transportation Safety Board investigation and other details.
ROBERTSDALE, Ala. — A charter bus that was bringing Texas students home from a trip to Walt Disney World on Tuesday drove off the road and plunged into a ravine here, killing the bus driver and injuring several students and other passengers.
Two buses from Houston-based charter bus company First Class Tours were traveling together, both carrying students from Channelview High School who gave a band performance at the amusement park. Baldwin County authorities said in a news conference that the rear bus somehow drove into the median and fell 50 feet down an embankment, according to WEAR. Authorities told the news source that one person suffered critical injuries, five people sustained serious injuries, and the rest of the injuries were minor. A total of 46 people were aboard the bus.
Channelview Independent School District Superintendent Greg Ollis released a statement on the school district’s website, in which he said that the district is now focused on getting all the students back home safely. He also thanked “first responders, hospital employees, and volunteers from churches and schools in Alabama and Florida that have stepped up to help our students and comfort them though this difficult situation.”
Responding to questions in a press conference on Tuesday, Ollis added that the bus involved in the accident was following the other bus, and when people on the first bus found out about the accident, they sent parents and staff members to the scene to help.
“Our parents that were there have done a tremendous job, and we have some staff members that really stepped up,” Ollis said.
Ollis added that injured students were initially sent to 10 different hospitals but were then reunited in two different areas: one in Alabama and the other in Florida. He added that many parents were already en route to pick up their children, and that the district was working with airline carriers to help get some of the students home.
“We’re blessed because I think our students are going to be alright, and our staff members are going to be alright, and it’s unbelievable how it turned out, from our first indication this morning.”
Ollis added that grief counselors and ministers would be on hand to help students when they return.
Ollis also confirmed that the district hired First Class Tours.
First Class Tours released a statement that confirmed that the bus driver, Harry Caligone, was killed in the accident, and the company is “deeply saddened for this loss. We offer our heartfelt condolences to his family.”
First Class Tours also said in the statement that their “prayers are with the injured and their families at this time” and that it will cooperate with authorities in the investigation.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Safety Measurement System records for the charter bus company show that it has been involved in four crashes in the last two years, including one other fatal crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the accident. In a media briefing held on Wednesday, NTSB Senior Investigator Peter Kotowski said that the bus that was involved in the accident was new, and was on its second trip, the Associated Press reports. Kotowski also said in the briefing that Caligone had been scheduled to meet a relief driver in Mobile before the accident occurred, and that he hadn’t gone over the number of hours he was allowed to drive, according to the Associated Press.
Additionally, the Associated Press reports that Capt. John Malone of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said that an autopsy report could show whether Caligone had a health problem that may have played a role in the accident. Malone also said that there were no skid marks, which indicates that the driver didn't apply the brakes in a hurry. A spokesman for First Class Tours told the Associated Press that Caligone had a checkup earlier this month, but the spokesman didn’t discuss the results.
View photos on Twitter from WEAR reporter David Gonzalez of the damaged bus after it was pulled out of the ravine.
#Breaking: the First Class Tours bus involved in this morning's crash in Baldwin County has been pulled out of the ravine. You can see how badly damaged it was. The driver was killed. @weartv pic.twitter.com/N5BUxMobsp— David Gonzalez (@davidgonz) March 13, 2018