1 killed after charter bus carrying 46 plunges down Alabama ravine
ROBERTSDALE, Ala. (WEAR) - A charter bus carrying high school students from Texas plunged down a 50-foot-deep ravine in Southern Alabama at 5:33 a.m. Tuesday. The crash occurred off Interstate 10, east of Wilcox Road in the westbound lane. The bus driver, Harry Caligone, was killed in the crash.
Channelview High School officials confirmed 46 people were on board when the charter bus headed to Houston crashed. At least two buses were traveling together. The Baldwin County Sheriff's Office confirms the buses were coming from Walt Disney World, carrying students from Channelview High School in Channelview, Texas. In a news conference, Baldwin County authorities said the bus somehow got into the median and tumbled down an embankment. The bus that crashed was in the rear. The other bus is en route to Texas.
Authorities say one person suffered critical injuries, five people suffered serious injuries, and the rest of the injuries were minor. One Baldwin County Sheriff's Office deputy suffered minor injuries.
“We have one confirmed fatality. We utilized 10 different hospitals, where individuals have been transported to Sacred Heart, Baptist, West Florida Hospital in Florida, South Baldwin Regional Medical Center, Thomas Hospital, Thomas Hospital Emergency Urgent Care and USA Hospital in Alabama," Baldwin County Sheriff Hoss Mack said.
Any parent who wants to pick up their child can go to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, Florida or Coastal Church located at 11101 County Road 64, Daphne, Alabama 36526.
"We are housing the youth until their parents arrive from Houston. We are serving them, along with the sheriff's department, the Red Cross, United Way of Baldwin County and the staff pastors of Coastal Church. We have counselors on staff that are ready to help the children until their parents arrive," said Jennifer Stafford, administrative assistant for the church.
Hotline for concerned parents
People wanting to know the status of their loved ones are urged to call the Baldwin County Call Center at 251-972-6807. They will be able to learn the hospitals the victims have been taken to and where they will be discharged from.
How you can help & Who is helping
Baldwin County Sheriff's Office Major Anthony Lowery said victims and their families have said they need gift or gas cards to get back home to Texas. If you would like to help, Lowery said you can drop the cards off at Coast Church of Daphne at 11101 County Road 64.
United Airlines said they are also helping out in the efforts to reunite the families of the victims. According to United Airlines, they are offering transportation to individuals and families impacted by the bus crash. They added they're working directly with a Channelview High School representative to accommodate travel requests for students and families.
Statements from school district, bus company
The Channelview Independent School District's Superintendent Greg Ollis issued the following statement:
First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go out to our students, employees, and families that have been affected by this tragedy. As you are well aware, a charter bus carrying Channelview High School band students was involved in an accident returning from Florida early this morning. At this time we have been able to confirm that 40 students and 6 adults from Channelview were on the bus at the time of the accident. We are aware of numerous injuries. We are now focused on getting everyone back safely to our community. We are extremely grateful for the 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. Those communities have opened their hearts and arms to our children and employees. They have provided resources, support, and a safe and welcoming environment while we work through the logistics of reuniting our families. We also want to thank our state and local officials who have all reached out to help us. Governor Abbot, Senator Sylvia Garcia, Commissioner Jack Morman, Representative Anna Hernandez, and Precinct 3 Constable Sherman Eagleton have all reached out to offer support and assistance.
First Class Tours issued the following statement:
A serious accident has taken place involving a First Class Tours bus in Alabama this morning. The bus was carrying a group of band students from Channelview High School who were returning home to Houston from Orlando.
Regrettably, the accident has taken the life of the driver of the bus, Harry Caligone. Harry was a long-time driver for our company and we are deeply saddened for this loss. We offer our heartfelt condolences to his family.
It is our understanding that there are additional injuries as a result of the accident. Our prayers are with the injured and their families at this time.
We pledge our assistance in cooperating with local authorities in the investigation.
Presently, this is all the information that we have to share. We will provide updates as additional information becomes available and it is appropriate to do so.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey issued the following statement:
I have spoken with my friend Texas Governor Greg Abbott after this morning’s tragic bus crash. I expressed my deepest sympathies, and have assured him that we will continue to pray for and do all we can to assist those affected by this event, especially the Channelview High School community. Governor Abbott expressed his sincere thanks for the tremendous efforts of our excellent first responders and was very complimentary of their quality and effectiveness. My team and I, including ALEA and EMA, have been and will continue to monitor this situation, and I have offered Governor Abbott any further assistance. I urge all Alabamians to remember how precious life is and to pray for those lost and injured in this incident.
Authorities told Channel 3 News at the time of the crash they shut down I-10 in both directions, so helicopters could land to transport the injured.
Traffic was being diverted to exit 49. Alabama and Florida state troopers were diverting motorists off the interstate onto Highway 90. As of 3:45 p.m., all lanes have reopened.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency has taken the lead in this investigation. ABC News has confirmed that the NTSB is sending a team of six to investigate the accident.
Numerous emergency personnel from multiple agencies responded to the scene. First responders from Daphne, Alabama, to Pensacola, Florida, were responding.
Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola confirmed 18 patients had been transported there. Baptist Hospital reported two patients would be transported there. The number of victims taken to West Florida Hospital was not immediately known.
Escambia County Area Transit was reportedly sending a bus to the scene to assist with transports. ECAT transported 22 students to a rest stop away from the scene.
Crash record for First Class Tours
According to the Associated Press, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records show that in past two years, the company that owns the bus the crashed in Alabama has been involved in four other crashes, with one of those also involving a fatality.
No one was injured or killed in the other three crashes involving First Class Tours Inc. The agency's records don't indicate fault. According to a Texas Peace Officer's Crash Report, the previous crash involving a fatality took place in May 2017 in Houston, when one of the company's buses failed to yield the right of way as it turned left and fatally struck a pedestrian who was in a crosswalk.