Twenty-seven young schoolgirls and four adults en route to visit NASA’s space camp in the United States could have died under their overturned bus without a major decision.
Students from Loreto College, Ballarat, were traveling on Victoria’s Western Highway in the early hours of Wednesday morning when their bus slowed to avoid an accident and was struck by a B-Double truck.
The Bus Association of Victoria believes seat belts played an important role in saving the lives of those on board, after most buckled up.
“It looks like there were some that weren’t, but it was a coach with seat belts and the majority wore them,” Executive Director Chris Lowe told The Guardian.
“The whole circumstance could have been a lot worse if it hadn’t been buckled.”
The school bus carrying 27 students and four teachers rolled 50m behind and a truck collided in the confusion of a previous truck accident (pictured, emergency services at the scene).
The students were on their way to Melbourne Airport when their bus rolled down the 50 meter high embankment at around 3:20am.
First responders faced a confronting scene while helping students in grades nine through eleven who were trapped on the bus.
Police said it was a miracle that everyone on board was able to pull themselves out of the wreckage and survive the crash.
“Miraculously, they evacuated themselves and other people, I think truck drivers and whatnot, stopped to help them,” said Detective Inspector Roger Schranz.
“I would have assumed that someone would have died from this whole tragedy. So you are all very lucky.”
Police are still investigating Wednesday’s collision between a school bus and a truck (pictured) and are asking anyone with relevant information to contact Crime Stoppers
Victoria Police Acting Superintendent Jason Templar told reporters the event was “quite heartbreaking” for everyone involved.
“It’s unbelievable that no one was seriously injured,” he said.
Three of the teenagers who were flown to the Royal Children’s Hospital remain in serious but stable condition.
A woman in her 40s and a man in her 50s remain in stable condition at Royal Melbourne Hospital.
Everyone else on board was taken to various hospitals for observation on Wednesday.
Emergency services immediately rushed to the scene Wednesday morning and found the school bus on its side and students pulling themselves out of the wreckage
BAV executive director Chris Lowe (pictured left) said most students wore seat belts on the bus, a decision that may have saved many lives as police were relieved there had been no casualties at the scene
Kangaroo Transport Industries CEO Steve Buck said the 60-year-old driver is a subcontractor “who has safely driven road trains for more than 30 years” and required surgery after being trapped in the cab.
Speed limits at the time of the accident have been reduced following a collision the previous night.
Loreto College will remain open on Thursday, the holiday of mourning, for students, parents and teachers to access counseling.
The exciting US trip that the students were aiming for included six nights at NASA space camp, two nights in Washington, a tour of the US Capitol, lunch with an astronaut, and an airboat tour of the Florida Everglades.
The field trip, which cost $7,700 per student, was previously canceled due to Covid restrictions.
The distraught mother of one of the students took to a private local social media group to explain that her daughter was physically fine but was devastated by the incident.
The mother had canceled her own trip abroad, but immediately canceled the flights to stay with her daughter.
“I wanted to say how Jetstar softened the blow of a terrible day for my family,” the mother wrote.
Victoria Police Detective Inspector Roger Schranz (pictured) said the seriously injured truck driver collided with the bus because traffic had built up from a previous accident
“We were separated on our way to the airport for our trip to Bali when we learned how serious the crash was.
“Although she is physically fine, it was very traumatic to see many of her friends being airlifted or taken to hospital by ambulance.”
The mum then said she wanted to “credit the airline where it’s due” for their help, reminding parents “please give your loved ones an extra push”.
Witness to the collision, Trevor Oliver, who works for a towing company, told Seven News he was about half a mile up the road when he heard three loud crashes.
Mr Oliver raced to the scene and was shocked to see injured children between the 9th and 11th graders falling off the bus onto the grass.
“Immediately your heart sinks, but to get there and find students, (it’s) another world,” he said.
Mr Oliver said he ran down the embankment and, with the help of others, took off the driver’s windscreen so some of the girls could get out.
Then he saw a girl whose leg was almost completely severed from her body. “The three of us caught them… we freed them and carried them out,” he said.
Trevor Oliver (pictured) raced to the scene after a school bus collided with a truck on a Melbourne motorway
The truck and car collided at 3.15am on Wednesday at Bacchus Marsh in north-west Melbourne (location located).
“(I) was just trying to calm her down. We grabbed everything we could to wrap her leg because we were aware of her bleeding.
He then gave the students his phone so they could call their families.
Mr Oliver used to work for the Country Fire Authority and has previously dealt with trauma but acknowledged it never gets easier.
The school released a statement thanking rescue workers and reassuring parents.
“The College is extremely grateful for the prompt and professional response of emergency responders on site and Grampians Health is deeply grateful for their continued support,” the statement said.
“Our caring Loreto community is deeply concerned for the injured and their families and we ask that their privacy be respected. We thank you for your understanding.’
The Melbourne-bound lanes of the Western Freeway between Ballan and Bacchus Marsh have since reopened.
Investigators from the major collision department are investigating the exact circumstances of the crash.