ORLAND, Calif. — A college visit by more than 40 high school students turned tragic when a FedEx tractor-trailer veered across a grassy highway median and slammed into their bus in a fiery wreck that left 10 people dead, authorities said.
Someone kicked out a window on the bus, and many of those aboard squeezed through and ran for their lives to the other side of Interstate 5 before the vehicle exploded in flames.
The 44 teenagers aboard, nearly half of from the Los Angeles school district, were on their way to Humboldt State University in far Northern California.
Steven Clavijo, a high school senior from Santa Clarita who planned to enroll the school, was trying to catch a nap when he felt the vehicle begin to shake from left to right and then he heard a loud boom.
"We knew we were in major trouble," he said.
After he escaped, two more explosions soon followed. Clavijo and other survivors looked on knowing others were still trapped in the inferno.
Both drivers were killed, along with three adult chaperones and five teenage students, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Towering flames devoured both vehicles just after the crash, and clouds of smoke billowed into the sky until firefighters doused the fire, leaving behind scorched black hulks of metal. Bodies were draped in blankets inside the burned-out bus.
Three buses were traveling as a convoy and only one was involved in the crash, said Earl Perkins, assistant superintendent of operations for the Los Angeles schools district.
Nineteen of the students on the bus were from the Los Angeles schools, Perkins said.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to investigate.
"Every piece of paper associated with this will be looked at," said Eric M. Weiss, an NTSB spokesman.
The crash happened a little after 5:30 p.m. on the interstate near Orland, a small city about 100 miles north of Sacramento.