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April 18, 2014

Student struggles to recount fatal truck-bus crash

ORLAND, Calif. (AP) — Most of the 911 calls from witnesses to last week's fiery truck-bus collision that killed 10 were matter of fact. Then there was the one from a passenger: With shrieks in the background, the student struggled to recount how a truck came roaring toward them.

"What did the bus hit?" the dispatcher asked.

The student who had just escaped from the bus started to explain that the truck smashed into its left side.

The dispatcher tried to refocus the student: "Just with one or two words, tell me what the bus hit."

"The bus hit a FedEx truck," the student replied. "The FedEx truck came into us."

"Was it head on?"

"Yes, head on."

The California Highway Patrol released the recordings Thursday as investigators returned to the scene about 100 miles north of Sacramento to reconstruct aspects of the crash.

The bus was on an approximately 700 mile trek to Humboldt State University. Many of the students on board stood to be the first in their family to attend college.

Dozens escaped through windows before the bus exploded into towering flames just before 6 p.m. on April 10. Five students and three adult chaperones died, along with the truck and bus drivers.

As the CHP released the recordings, the agency's investigators were reconstructing how the bus driver might have reacted to the sight of the big rig, which sideswiped a car before hitting the bus.

The CHP briefly closed the stretch of interstate where the crash happened, and drove the same model Serta 2014 bus northbound at about 70 mph. The driver braked so investigators could gauge how its speed would have dropped.

On the southbound side, a driver in the same model 2007 Volvo truck released the accelerator, in a similar effort to understand how its speed might have changed.

Video cameras on both vehicles recorded what each driver could have seen before the crash.

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