A fiery head-on collision Thursday between a FedEx truck and a charter bus carrying Los Angeles-area high school students killed at least nine people and injured dozens.
The crash on the 5 Freeway in Northern California had bus passengers en route to visit Humboldt State University fleeing for their lives. Dramatic images from the scene showed burned-out hulls of several vehicles.
LAUSD officials said students from Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Koreatown and Manual Arts High School in South L.A. were on the trip to Humboldt, though it was unclear whether they were on the bus that crashed.
“It’s almost impossible to confirm who was on that bus because there were three buses,” said a senior school district official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak.
The first report of the collision came in to the California Highway Patrol at 5:41 p.m. By then, prospective students looking forward to a weekend college trip had already been on the road from Southern California for hours.
Authorities said the truck crossed over a landscaped median and struck the bus, sending flames high above the 5 Freeway near Orland in Glenn County.
CHP Officer Tracy Hoover estimated that more than 30 people were hurt. At least one person suffered from “severe burns" while others had "cuts, scrapes, minor burns and contusions,” she said.
The drivers of both the bus and the FedEx truck were killed in the collision, CHP officials said. By 9 p.m., Hoover said all passengers had been taken from the scene, but coroner’s officials had not arrived.
Hoover said bus passengers included three chaperones as well as students from L.A.-area high schools. She did not immediately know which high schools were represented among the passengers.
“We’re just starting the investigation,” she said.
Both northbound and southbound lanes of the 5 Freeway in the area are expected to be closed until around 7 a.m. Friday.
Marc Smutny, 27, was nearby when he heard "probably three explosions" and ran to the scene.
“It was insane. The bus was engulfed in flames, smoke in and out of the front,” Smutny said. “The bus looked like it took most of the hit. … It was horrible.”
Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. John Deasy said Thursday night he was "deeply saddened to learn about the tragic accident."
"At this time, we do not know how many L.A. Unified students were victims of the crash." Deasy said in a statement. He said the district was providing support for victims at the site of the crash and had plans to be present at L.A. schools Friday morning.
Deasy noted that the trip was not organized by L.A. Unified.
“The accident is horrible for all the families involved. I’m praying for them and hoping that all of our students recover,” L.A. Unified school board member Monica Garcia said.
Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted his support for LAUSD's effort to help the families involved.
"So saddened to hear of students & chaperones in today's accident near Humboldt State," Garcetti wrote.
The bus was bound for Humboldt State for a spring break tour of the campus, according to university officials. In a statement on the university’s website, Humboldt officials said the charter bus was bringing a group of prospective students to the campus’ April 12 Spring Preview Day.
University officials made use of the school's website to report what they knew. An emergency information line for the Humboldt State University Police was made available to family members seeking their loved ones at (707) 826-6327.
Gov. Jerry Brown and his wife Anne expressed "heartfelt and deep sympathies to the families, friends and loved ones of those who died in the tragic accident near Orland this evening."
"As we mourn the loss of those who died," Brown said in a statement, "we join all Californians in expressing our gratitude for the tireless work of the Red Cross and emergency personnel who responded bravely to this terrible tragedy.”
Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.