Baldwin County, AL — A bus carrying Houston-area band students home from Disney World fell into a 50-foot ravine in Baldwin County, Alabama, early Tuesday morning, killing the driver, police said.
The crash and rescue effort closed down Interstate 10 in both directions near the Florida state line.
The students had just performed at Walt Disney World in Orlando and were on their way home to Texas on two buses when one of them crashed, Channelview Independent School District Superintendent Greg Ollis said.
Westbound lanes of I-10 were reopened by mid-afternoon, but eastbound lanes remained closed, according to the Alabama Department of Transportation.
The bus struck a bridge support when it landed in the ravine, and inspectors need to make sure the bridge is sound before reopening the interstate, Alabama State Trooper Capt. John Malone said.
“The bus came to rest on one side down in the ravine. Those had to either be brought up by ropes or rappelling individuals from the fire department during the rescue operation. Some were carried out by either deputies or other law enforcement,” Baldwin County Sheriff Huey Hoss Mack said, explaining that the depth of the ravine complicated rescue efforts.
First Class Tours, which operated the bus, identified the driver as Harry Caligone, a longtime employee of the company
“We are deeply saddened for this loss. We offer our heartfelt condolences to his family,” the bus company said.
Mack said several injured people were taken to 10 hospitals in Baldwin County, the Alabama cities of Mobile, Daphne and Fairhope, and Pensacola, Florida. There were 40 students and six adults on the bus, Ollis said.
Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola received 19 of the passengers, four of them in serious condition, according to the hospital. Seven patients were treated and released.
Six or seven Medevac helicopters transported patients to hospitals, the sheriff said. One patient remains critical, he said, and five are in serious condition. The rest of the injured, including a Baldwin County deputy hurt during the extrication process, suffered minor wounds, he said.
“I don’t want to say there aren’t severe injuries, but we are certainly blessed,” the school superintendent said, adding that all students and staff “will be all right.”
A video of the crash showed the bus on its side in a grassy aqueduct as rescuers with flashlights scoured the area. Firefighters looked down from a bridge and dozens of emergency vehicles lined the road leading up to the bridge.
The bus’ front axle appeared to be separated from the vehicle and at least two doors to luggage compartments had been ripped off. The roof of the bus also appeared damaged.
The bus was traveling west when it drove into the median on Interstate 10 and then into the ravine at Cowpen Creek, about 5:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m. ET), Mack said.
The creek runs through the ravine, and there is water in the creek, but the bus did not land in the water, said Baldwin County Sheriff’s Maj. Anthony Lowery.
The last victim was extricated from the crash shortly before 9 a.m. (10 a.m. ET), Mack said.
“The next thing we needed to do was get blankets up here,” he said. “Of course, they were cold. It was 40 degrees this morning.”
First Class Tours said in a statement that the company is cooperating with investigators.
“Our prayers are with the injured and their families at this time,” the statement said.
Baldwin County runs up the eastern edge of Mobile. Bay Minette is its county seat.