At least nine people died Thursday after a bus carrying Los Angeles-area high school students planning to tour Humboldt State was struck head-on by a FedEx truck on Interstate 5 in Northern California, causing a fire that badly burned both vehicles.
For unknown reasons, the truck crossed over the landscaped center median and crashed into the tour bus, which was traveling north on I-5 near the town of Orland in Glenn County, according to the California Highway Patrol.
The drivers of the bus and truck were killed, officials said. The other fatalities were passengers on the bus.
CHP officer Tracy Hoover estimated that more than 30 people were hurt. At least one person was severely burned while others had "cuts, scrapes, minor burns and contusions," she said.
Witness Marc Smutny, 27, said he was doing landscape work nearby when he heard a series of blasts.
Smutny said he ran to the scene and saw flames rising from the FedEx truck and a white charter bus.
"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."
At least one L.A. Unified student was injured, he said. That student contacted her mother, who alerted district officials.
Late Thursday, the district said high school students from Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools and Manual Arts were on the trip but were not necessarily on the bus that crashed. Three buses had been chartered by Humboldt State to take students on the trip.
The CHP said the bus was carrying students from several high schools in the Los Angeles area. 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," said L.A. Unified school board member Monica Garcia.
The bus was bound for Humboldt State for a spring break tour of the campus, according to university officials. In a statement on Humboldt State's website, university officials said the charter bus was bringing a group of prospective students to the campus' April 12 Spring Preview Day.
"Our hearts go out to those who have been affected, and we are here to support them, and their families, in any way possible," said Rollin Richmond, the university's president, in a statement.
Late Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown issued a statement about the accident, saying that he and his wife, Anne, "extend our heartfelt and deep sympathies to the families, friends and loved ones of those who died." He also praised the efforts of the first responders and the Red Cross.