9 dead in NorCal I-5 crash of bus with LA-area high school students (updated)

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Update 10 p.m..: Los Angeles Unified School District John Deasy posted a statement on the Thursday bus crash in Northern California that left nine people dead and involved a tour bus carrying Los Angeles-area high school students. 

Deasy's statement was posted on the LAUSD Facebook page:

Statement from Superintendent John Deasy on Tragic Tour Bus Crash

We were deeply saddened to learn about the tragic accident that took place earlier today near Humboldt State University. At this time, we do not know how many L.A. Unified students were victims of the crash. We are providing support at the site. We will be providing support at District schools tomorrow morning. An information line has been set up for families by Humboldt State University Police at 707-826-6327. When more information is confirmed, an update will be provided.

Mayor Eric Garcetti, meanwhile, offered his own sympathies on Twitter:

Garcetti tweet

Update 9:50 p.m.: A FedEx truck crossed a grassy freeway median in Northern California and slammed into a bus carrying high school students on a visit to a college. At least nine were killed in the fiery crash, authorities said.

Massive flames could be seen devouring both vehicles just after the crash, and clouds of black smoke billowed into the sky until firefighters had quenched the fire, leaving behind scorched black hulks of metal. Bodies were draped in yellow plastic inside the burned-out bus.

California Highway Patrol dispatchers said the drivers of the tractor-trailer and bus were among the dead, along with seven other people who were riding on the bus.

RELATED: Search for loved ones at the Red Cross website

The crash happened a little after 5:30 p.m. on Interstate 5 near Orland, a small city about 100 miles north of Sacramento.

The bus was one of two that the admissions office at Humboldt State University had chartered to bring prospective students from Southern California to tour the Arcata campus, Humboldt's Vice President of Administrative Affairs Joyce Lopes said.

University police were trying to determine which school districts the students were from and fielding telephone calls from anxious parents, Lopes said.

"Our hearts go out to those who have been affected, and we are here to support them, and their families, in any way possible," Humboldt State's President Rollin Richmond said in a statement on the school's website.

A CHP dispatcher says the bus and truck were on opposite sides of the freeway when the truck crossed a grass median and slammed into the bus, causing an explosion and fire.

Investigators say the truck driver might have been trying to avoid a passenger car that was also involved in the crash, which shut down north- and south-bound traffic on the freeway.

Bonnie Kourvelas, a FedEx spokeswoman, said in a statement Thursday night: "Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in the tragic accident on I-5 in California. We are cooperating fully with authorities as they investigate."

A first responder who helped set up a triage at the scene said 36 or 37 people received injuries ranging from severe to minor burns, broken legs and noses and head lacerations.

"The victims were teenage kids. A lot of them were freaked out. They were shocked. They still couldn't grasp what happened," Jason Wyman with the Orland Volunteer Fire Department said.

"You hear about it in the news, but you never seen anything like that," he said.

Wyman said when he drove a water truck to the highway, both the bus and truck were fully engulfed in flames, sending thick, dark smoke into the air.

He said he was first focused on putting out the fire, and once it was under control he saw dozens of people walking wounded.

"The first victim that was taken out of the bus was severely burned," Wyman said.

Five people were taken to Enloe Medical Center in Chico with minor to moderate injuries; four more were on the way, hospital spokeswoman Christina Chavira said.

Another five were taken to Mercy Medical Center in Redding in fair condition.

—Fenit Nirappil and Lisa Leff of the Associated Press. Leff reported from San Francisco. Associated Press Photographer Rick Pedroncelli in Orland, Associated Press Writers Channing Joseph in San Francisco and Daisy Nguyen in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

CAL FIRE tweet

Previously: Nine people were killed Thursday in a three-vehicle crash involving a bus carrying high school students on a visit to a college, the Associated Press reported.

NBC-LA, citing the California Highway Patrol, reported that the high school students were from the Los Angeles area.

The crash has shut down north- and south-bound traffic on Interstate 5, authorities said.

The California Highway Patrol received a report of the crash at 5:41 p.m. Thursday, dispatcher Curtis Pahlka told the AP. "At this point there are nine confirmed fatalities," he said.

The area of the accident was near Orland, Calif., about 480 miles north of Los Angeles and 150 miles north of San Francisco.

Glenn County Sheriff's Dispatcher Pauline Spooner told the AP that the passengers on the bus were high school seniors on their way to visit the campus of Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., and that several people were airlifted to local hospitals with injuries.

"The Red Cross has set up a shelter for the ones who had minor" injuries, she said.

Humboldt confirmed in a statement on its website that the bus passengers were prospective students on their way to the college:

Humboldt State University is deeply saddened by a tragic accident that occurred earlier this evening involving a charter bus filled with prospective students. They were on their way to visit campus for the April 11 Spring Preview event. Our hearts go out to those who have been affected, and we are here to support them, and their families, in any way possible. The bus was travelling on Interstate 5 near Orland when it collided with a FedEx truck. We are in contact with law enforcement in the area, and are being told of multiple injuries. Families of students who may have been affected may contact University Police for more information or guidance at (707) 826-5555. 

Pahlka told the AP that it is not yet clear what caused the crash but that it involved the bus, a FedEx truck and a Nissan Altima.

The northbound lane of Interstate 5 was closed at 5:46 p.m., and the southbound lane was closed at 6:30 p.m.

No further details were immediately available about the identities of the dead.

"I don't have any details on the individuals yet," Pahlka said.

Humboldt State Tweet

This story has been updated.

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