ORLAND, Calif. — The long bus ride north from Los Angeles for a group of high school students who planned to visit Humboldt State University had been fun: The hours whizzed by as they watched movies, chatted up new friends, and jammed to hip-hop on the radio.
Steven Clavijo, 18, a senior at West Ranch High in Santa Clarita, was looking forward to his visit to Humboldt, where he planned to enroll. Just as Clavijo was trying to catch a nap Thursday afternoon, he said he felt the big vehicle begin to shake from left to right and then he heard a loud boom.
"We knew we were in major trouble," he said.
A FedEx tractor-trailer had crossed a grassy freeway median and slammed into the bus. At least nine were killed in the fiery crash.
Many of the more than 40 students on board escaped through a window that someone had kicked open, Clavijo said, running for their lives to the other side of Interstate 5 before hearing an explosion and seeing the bus burst into flames.
As he jumped out of the window, Clavijo said, he dropped his glasses and scraped his knee.
Two more explosions soon followed, he said, and he and other survivors looked on, knowing others were still trapped in an inferno.
Massive flames could be seen devouring 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.
California Highway Patrol Officer Lacy Heitman said the driver of the tractor-trailer was among the dead. CHP dispatchers initially said the bus driver also died, but Heitman later said investigators were working to identify the eight victims on the bus, which carried between 44 and 48 students, four chaperones and the driver.