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One Day in History: “Alton School Bus Accident.” September 21, 1989

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A spectacular memorial stands at the spot where the bus, filled with students plunged into the caliche pit on September 21, 1989. Image by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
A spectacular memorial stands at the spot where the bus, filled with students plunged into the caliche pit on September 21, 1989. Image by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

Texas Border Business

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Around 7:34 A.M. on 9/21/1989, a Dr Pepper delivery truck, operated by the Valley Coca-Cola Bottling Company, and a Mission Consolidated Independent School District school bus collided along Farm to Market Road 676, also known as 5 Mile Road/Line and Mile 5 Road/Line, at Bryan Road.

Crosses bearing the names of the victims of this tragic accident surround the memorial located at the intersection of 5 mile line and Bryan Road. Image by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
Another view of the fateful intersection where the bus plunged into the caliche pit in 1989. Image by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
A beautiful memorial has been has been standing at the site of the tragic bus accident in 1989. Image by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
Colorful flowers adorn the memorial at the site of the tragic bus accident in 1989. Image by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
Crosses Bearing the names of the victims of the tragic bus accident in 1989. Image by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
Crosses Bearing the names of the victims of the tragic bus accident in 1989. Image by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

The bus had just picked up its final student. There was no barrier that would have stopped the bus before it entered the caliche pit. The bus was built in 1977 and had a capacity of 84 seats. The truck was determined to have gone through a stop sign. 

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Video by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez depicting the park adjacent to the crash site.
A group of Cranes enjoying a hot summer day in the actual pit where the bus accident occurred in 1989. Image by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
Another view of the park adjacent to the Crash site. Image by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
A very well-maintained park adjacent to the crash site. Image by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

The students on board, ranging in age from 12 to 19,  attended Mission Junior High School and Mission High School in Mission, Texas, and were from the portion of Alton that had the lowest socioeconomic status.] The bus had 42 students in senior high school and 39 students in junior high school. 

A crew works at the park to see that it is properly maintained at all times. Image by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

The bus fell into a caliche pit with about 10 feet (3.0 m) of water. Caliche pits in the area had filled with rainwater as time passed; there were no laws requiring owners of the pits to have them filled in after mining was finished. The bus filled with water within 30 to 60 seconds, resulting from openings in side windows, the front boarding door, and the windshield which had become dislodged. The students did not have an air pocket which would have given them time to determine how to escape.

Shelters at the Park adjacent to the crash site. Image by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

The lack of visibility in the caliche-filled water prevented students from seeing available exits. In addition, some students became trapped in the windows because of their large sizes, and multiple students attempted the same routes of egress at the same time. The NTSB named the small sizes of the exits as factors inhibiting escape. According to the NTSB, the available time was “inadequate time for 81 desperate students to escape through the available window openings and the rear emergency door that did not remain open before they were trapped underwater.” 

Another shelter at the Park adjacent to the crash site. Image by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

Agents from the U.S. Border Patrol and 125 emergency vehicles from various agencies assisted in the rescue.  

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Of the 81 students on board, 11 students sustained no injuries, 46 sustained minor injuries, 3 sustained serious injuries, and 21 died; all 21 deaths were due to drowning or due to causes related to being in the water.  19 died on September 21, and an additional two died later in the hospital from complications related to the asphyxia they had experienced,  with the final deceased victim dying on September 29.  Both the drivers of the truck and the bus survived the accident. 

None of the passengers experienced trauma-related injuries which would have prevented them from exiting the bus. Most of the deceased students were away from the exits, in the bus’s center.

The park is currently under renovations. Image by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

Source: Wikipedia, Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 3.0

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