Alaska State Troopers say three people have been injured in a Friday crash involving a bus chartered for a cross country ski competition and a Department of Transportation semi truck on the Richardson Highway near Valdez.
Troopers spokesperson Beth Ipsen wrote in a release Friday that the bus rear-ended a semi owned by the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. The semi-truck, driven by 60-year-old James Woodhouse, was towing an empty low-boy trailer.
The crash occurred at Mile 55 of the Richardson Highway and was reported to troopers at about 11:45 a.m., Ipsen said.
According to Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater, the students and faculty on board the bus -- chartered from Kenai-based Unique Charters to transport cross-country ski teams -- included 15 students and one coach from Skyview High School, as well as 28 students and two coaches from Kenai Central High School. The students were on their way to a cross country ski meet in Valdez.
Ipsen said three people were transported as a result of the crash: Woodhouse, who complained of back pain; a student who was injured when the crash threw him against the seat in front of him; and the bus driver, identified by Unique Charters as 72-year-old Verne Brown, who was pinned inside the school bus and had to be extricated.
Brown had to be extricated by the Valdez Fire Department, Ipsen said.
Ipsen said Brown and Woodhouse were transported by ambulance to Valdez hospital; Brown was later medivaced to Providence Hospital in Anchorage due to the severity of his injuries.
A request for a helicopter to fly Brown into Anchorage for treatment was initially called off due to weather, Ipsen said.
"There's been bad weather -- we've been having a hard time getting aircraft into the area," Ipsen said.
A release by Kenai Peninsula Borough school district communications specialist Pegge Erkeneff Friday night reported that Valdez City Schools sent buses to transport students to the elementary school. A medical triage team assembled to assess every student. Erkeneff wrote that several students were subsequently transported to Providence Valdez Medical Center for further evaluation.
The accident will prevent the two teams from competing in the Valdez Invitational Saturday, Erkeneff wrote. Unique Charters will send a replacement bus to bring the teams back to the central peninsula midday Saturday.
Unique Charters spokesperson Margaret Baxter identified Brown as a longtime employee who also has experience driving school buses. She says some people were reportedly trapped in the bus after Friday's crash -- the company's first since it started in 1995 -- but that both the bus and semi remained upright after the collision.
Ipsen had no reports of a highway closure in the area, but recommends that drivers in the area exercise caution.
KPBSD spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff says another Unique Charters bus had been scheduled to pick up the stranded students and faculty, but that at least one Valdez School District bus is now taking them to Valdez Elementary School. Ipsen said a “First Student” bus was transporting all students, including some who sustained injuries, to Valdez.
Ipsen credited Glennallen troopers, an Alaska State Park Ranger, an Alaska Wildlife Trooper, Kenny Lake EMS, Valdez Police Department, and Valdez Fire Department and EMS with the response.
Channel 2's Jeff Bridges, Ashleigh Ebert, Abby Hancock, Kortnie Horazdovsky, Mike Ross and Matthew Smith contributed information to this story.