(NBC New York) – A student and adult chaperone are dead after a full-size school bus collided with a dump truck on a major New Jersey highway Thursday, a violent accident that ripped the undercarriage completely off the bus and left it demolished on its side in the median, sources with knowledge of the investigation tell News 4.
Many injuries have been reported. An unknown number of middle school students were on board the school bus at the time of the 10:20 a.m. crash on Route 80 near exit 25 in Mount Olive Township, according to the New Jersey State Police. Cadaver dogs were later seen searching the nearby woods.
The bus came from East Brook Middle School in Paramus, a public school serving roughly 650 students in grades 5-8. The principal’s office hung up the phone when News 4 called seeking comment.
The bus was part of a fifth-grade class trip to Waterloo Village, a historic site in Stanhope. Students on the other two buses taking part in the trip were told they had to leave 10 minutes after arriving because of a storm, and only learned of the accident when they arrived back at school. They were then reunited with their families.
No additional details on the children or any injuries were available. Saint Clare’s Denville Hospital and Dover Hospital emergency departments have received 10 patients, a spokesperson said, though there was no immediate information on the extent of their injuries or their ages. Morristown Medical Center and Hackettstown also received patients, though it wasn’t clear how many.
Photos obtained by News 4 show the heavily damaged bus on its side in the median, surrounded by dozens of emergency and law enforcement vehicles. The front of it is barely recognizable, a mangled chunk of broken-apart machinery spread from the highway shoulder lane through the guardrail and into the grassy median, where police and first responders are seen tending to stunned children. The undercarriage, the bus wheels still attached, lays perpendicular to the overturned bus, stretching out over multiple lanes of the highway.
Manuel Absalon, a tourist from Mexico who was traveling on a New York City-bound bus from Toronto on Route 80, says he didn’t see the actual collision but was struck by the aftermath.
“From what I saw, the red truck was destroyed, but the bus appeared worse,” the 22-year-old Absalon said. “It looked like it was broken in half.”
The side of the bus says Paramus Board of Education, according to Mount Olive Township Mayor Rob Greenbaum. The Paramus transportation office declined to share information with News 4, calling the situation “upsetting.” The school district’s office said the superintendent is working on a statement.
A cause of the collision remains under investigation. A man at the front desk of a company connected to a license plate on the dump truck said it’s not clear what happened, but he did confirm the driver left the facility Thursday morning and got into the accident. It’s not clear if that driver was injured.
Gov. Murphy has also been briefed on the situation, and tweeted “Our hearts are broken by today’s tragedy,” when he arrived at the scene.
A team with the New Jersey Department of Health also responded.
Route 80 is closed westbound at exit 26. Heavy delays are expected through Thursday’s evening rush hour.