A charter bus that was carrying high school band members from the Channelview Independent School District back home to Texas from a trip to Disney World, where they performed at a music festival last Saturday, ran off an Alabama highway and plunged into a 50-for=t-deep ravine on Tuesday. The accident killed the bus driver and left many passengers injured. To deal with the accident, first responders were forced to use ropes to rappel down the 50-foot ravine in the middle of Interstate 10. In addition, they had to cut some of the victims out of the wreckage, according to the Baldwin County, Alabama Sheriff’s Department.
In all, there were roughly 45 people on the bus. In addition to the fatal injury to the driver, at least 34 people were treated at local hospitals or other facilities in Pensacola and southwest Alabama. Most of the victims were teenagers, and the injuries ranged from very minor to very serious, according to medial personnel on the scene.
Sheriff’s Department investigators say it is not immediately clear what caused the bus to enter the grassy median at about 5:30 a.m. Tuesday morning and continue down the steep embankment where the highway passes over Cowpen Creek. Because the crash happened at so early in the morning, passengers not only had to deal with the crunched bus, they also faced exposure to chilly temperatures.
Most On the Bus Were Injured
Rescuers on the scene went all out and used every piece of equipment they could find to reach the passengers and get them out of that situation. Several passengers reported being thrown all over the bus in the crash. Witnesses to the aftermath of the accident reported seeing dozens of emergency vehicles on the road and the bus with its front end crumpled and lying on its side near the base of a concrete embankment.
A large portion of the Interstate was closed down in both directions for quite some time, as many injured victims were transported from the scene by ambulance or helicopter. They were taken to hospitals, including emergency rooms in Mobile, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida, as well as a free-standing emergency room nearby, in rural Baldwin County. In the end, every passenger was taken to a hospital for treatment, whether or not they seemed injured.
Apparently, many other members of the Channelview band were traveling on another bus not involved in the accident. That bus stopped after realizing what happened, but did not allow the students to get off, and eventually continued to take passengers home.
In a statement, the owner and operator of the bus, charter company First Class Tours of Houston, has promised to help in any way they can to find out what happened and to cooperate fully with local authorities investigating the crash. The statement also offered prayers for those injured and their families.
A Disturbing Pattern of Bus Crashes
In the United States, the number of accidents involving buses has been increasing steadily over the past 20 years. The last year for which complete statistics are available is 2014, and the U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics says 69,000 bus accidents occurred that year.
A study by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), released in 2011, entitled “Report on Curbside Motorcoach Safety,” notes that 241 million person-trips took place on charter and tour buses in 2009, and the bus accident occupant fatality rate was 45 deaths per 100,000 accidents, compared with 251 deaths per 100,000 accidents for passenger car occupants. Another study, however, published in the Journal of Safety Research, “Risk factors Associated with Bus Accident Severity in the United States,” however, concludes that buses are not necessarily safer than cars. The researchers concluded that, “while bus accidents comprise a relatively small share of the total accidents (0.6%) in the United States, the number of bus accidents per million passenger miles (3.04) is comparable to the number of car accidents per million driven miles (3.21).”
When a charter bus is involved in an accident, the results can be either minor or devastating, or anything in between, to both the victims and their families. All such accidents must be fully investigated to find out what caused the accident. Often, the accident is caused by negligence on the part of the driver, or the charter bus company. Among the most common causes for bus crashes include driver fatigue, sometimes because the driver was not following “hours of service” rules, or because the driver was distracted in some way, such as texting or talking on a cell phone at the time of the accident. In other cases, the driver may be intoxicated or otherwise impaired.
Sometimes, the bus itself is the problem, due to a mechanical failure, which can be the result of a defect, a lack of maintenance or some other problem. Sometimes, charter bus companies place costs ahead of safety, or they think the bus can stand “one more run” before it’s submitted for expensive repairs. A full investigation is always necessary, to determine what happened. The families of the children involved in this accident deserve answers.