The bus was part of a six-vehicle caravan taking the marching band, color guard, and dancers from Farmingdale High School on Long Island to a camp in Greeley, in northeastern Pennsylvania. Shortly after 1 p.m., about 30 minutes from its destination, the bus veered off of Interstate 84 in the town of Wawayanda, near the Pennsylvania border and about 75 miles northwest of New York City, 50 feet down into a wooded area.
The high school’s band director, Gina Pellettiere, 43, of Massapequa, died, as well as retired teacher Beatrice Ferrari, 77, of Farmingdale, per the Associated Press. There were 44 passengers in total on the bus. Five others were in critical condition as of Thursday night.
“I’ve been briefed on the tragic accident in Orange County involving a bus filled with high school students,” Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) posted on social media Thursday afternoon. “At my direction, @nyspolice & @NYSDHSES are onsite to assist local emergency responders. Our hearts are with all who are impacted by this horrific situation.”
Overhead photos taken from a helicopter showed the bus flipped onto its side off of an embankment on the side of the highway, with more than a dozen emergency vehicles parked on the road to assist in the rescue and recovery efforts.
Authorities suggested more lives would have been lost if the first responders had not “run into the danger” to rescue the wounded as quickly as they did.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the New York State Police are investigating what caused the crash, with an investigative team expected to arrive at the wreck site Friday morning. Authorities believe a faulty front tire may have caused the crash, but the investigation is only just beginning.
“Imagine the fear, the screams, and the aftermath when these high school students, many of them freshmen, were surrounded by this chaos,” Hochul said, per CNN. “But they endured, they were strong, and within 45 minutes, because of the efforts of an incredible amount of teamwork, these young people and the adults were brought to safety.”