Bus bringing students to mission trip crashes, 1 killed
Officials said at least 10 people were hurt, including two critically
By Kathleen Foody
ATLANTA — A church bus carrying Alabama high school students on their way to a mission trip in Africa crashed near Atlanta, killing one person and injuring several others, authorities said.
The Mount Zion Baptist Church bus from Huntsville, Alabama, was headed to the airport Thursday afternoon when it collided with another vehicle on a four-lane road, Fulton County Police Cpl. Partrena Smith said. Dozens of high school students and adults were on board.
Sarah Harmening, 17, of Huntsville, was killed in the crash, The Fulton County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed Friday morning.
Her mother Karen fought through tears as she read her daughter's final journal entry before her mission trip to Botswana with the church group, WSB-TV reported.
"I was just reminded of why I'm here and that God called me here, and he's done so for a reason," she wrote while on the bus ride, before it crashed. "So I know he's going to do incredible things."
At least 10 people were hurt, including two critically, Smith said. Fulton County Fire Chief Larry Few said 21 people were hurt. The Associated Press couldn't immediately determine the discrepancy in the number of injuries.
Smith said there were two people in the car involved in the crash, but she wasn't sure of their conditions.
Images from the scene showed the bus on its roof and another car underneath it. The parkway where the crash occurred was completely closed and firetrucks and ambulances swarmed the area near Atlanta's airport.
Grady Memorial Hospital said it received nine patients. Of those, four were critical, three were in fair condition and one was listed as stable. Grady officials say other hospitals in the area — Atlanta Medical Center and Southern Regional Medical Center — also received patients but they didn't know how many.
Telephone calls to those facilities seeking comment were not immediately returned.
Church education minister Terry Slay told Atlanta station WXIA-TV that the bus was carrying 11th- and 12th-graders, along with adults who were going on a an international mission trip.
Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong tells Huntsville station WAAY-TV that a teen girl died as a result of the bus wreck.
Madison County Schools spokesman John Southerland said several Sparkman High School students were hurt, some with broken bones. The girl who died was not a student in the district, he said.
Madison County Commissioner Phil Vandiver's wife and son were on the bus. He says both are safe.
"We know they're all right, we know we've been blessed," he told reporters outside the church.
Vandiver said he spoke with both shortly after the accident but neither could provide any real details. "He was rather shook," he said of his son. "He just told me him and his mama were fine."
The church asked people for prayers on its Facebook page.
Smith said late Thursday the National Transportation Safety Board is handling the investigation moving forward. Friday morning, Smith referred questions to the NTSB, saying they were handling the investigation. However, the NTSB's media relations division said on its official Twitter account early Friday that the federal agency is not investigating the crash. Calls to the NTSB Friday morning to clarify the situation were not immediately returned.