tour_bus_crash_031318
This photo provided by Jesus Tejada shows first responders searching around a bus that plunged into a ravine, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, on Interstate 10 in Loxley, Ala. Several people were on board, and all of them were brought to 10 hospitals in Alabama and Florida, either by helicopter or ambulance, said Baldwin County (Ala.) Sheriff Huey Hoss Mack. ( via AP) ORG XMIT: NY107
Jesus Tejada via AP

DAPHNE, Ala. — The bus driver of a charter tour bus carrying high school students was killed Tuesday when the bus crashed in rural Alabama near the Florida-Alabama state line, police said. 

Dozens of students and adult chaperones were hospitalized after their chartered tour bus on its return trip to Texas plunged down a 50-foot ravine early Tuesday on Interstate 10, less than 10 miles west of the Florida-Alabama state line, said Capt. John Malone of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.

The driver of the First Class Tours bus, Harry Caligone of Houston, died at the scene. 

"Harry was a long-time driver for our company, and we are deeply saddened for this loss. We offer our heartfelt condolences to his family," according to a statement from First Class Tours of Houston, whose officials said they were cooperating with local authorities to determine the cause of the accident.

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The bus was taking 40 Channelview High School band members and six adults back to Houston after a spring break trip to Disney World in Orlando, said Mark Kramer, public relations officer with the Channelview Independent School District, about 15 miles east of Houston.

Kramer confirmed that two charter tour buses were transporting band students back to Houston at the time of the crash. The other bus was not involved in the crash and arrived home Tuesday afternoon.

Two or three passengers in the wrecked bus had to be cut out to be freed, Malone said.

It wasn't immediately clear what caused the bus to enter the grassy median, which abruptly ends at a steep embankment where the interstate passes over Cowpen Creek, about 25 miles west of Pensacola, Fla., and 30 miles east of Mobile, Ala., said Hoss Mack said, sheriff of Baldwin County, Ala. The crash happened at about 5:30 a.m. CT, crunching the bus and leaving the passengers exposed to temperatures in the low 40s.

The bus was crushed on impact below the bridge, trapping students and staff inside. It took rescuers about three hours to get everyone out of the wreckage.

Mike Burke, a spokesman for Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, Fla., said the hospital treated 20 crash victims.

Five remain hospitalized and all are in serious condition. The other 15 patients were released and were in a conference center at the hospital awaiting the arrival of family.

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Sixteen teens ages 15 to 18 were taken to multiple Infirmary Health locations in southern Alabama, said Martha Davidson, a spokeswoman for Infirmary Health.

As of 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, at least a dozen patients total remained hospitalized.

Coastal Church in Daphne, Ala., about 15 miles west of the crash site, became a temporary shelter for some of the crash victims. The teens were sleeping on cots inside the church Tuesday afternoon while waiting for their parents to make the trip from Texas, Pastor Chad Stafford said.

"They're all sleeping. They've been talking for awhile," Stafford said. "They have the therapy dogs. They couldn't be kinder children."

The Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office and the American Red Cross were also at the church to coordinate donations and family arrivals. 

People in the area have rallied to assist crash victims, Davidson said. 

"A couple people from the community called and asked if they could bring shirts or blankets to the hospitals," Davidson said. "The community support is greatly appreciated because I know the students don’t have any extra clothes or anything like that."

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Sheriff's officials escorted family members across the parking lot, past media, as they arrived starting at about 4 p.m. As more families arrived, authorities had them pull up to the church door and held up a sheet so victims could get inside the vehicles in private.

An image of the wreckage shows the crumpled bus landed on its side, far below the pavement. The interstate was closed in both directions as passengers were taken to hospitals. 

All lanes of Interstate 10 were opened about noon CT as crews continued to work to remove the wreckage from the ravine.

A hotline was set up for Texas family members to call for a status update: 251-972-6807.

The National Transportation Safety Board will send six employees to investigate the crash, officials said.

► July 3: 18 feared dead, dozens injured in German bus crash
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Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records show the company that owns the bus, First Class Tours, has been involved in four other crashes in the past two years, one involving a fatality and three others without deaths or injuries. Caligone, the driver killed in Tuesday's crash, was not involved in the other accidents.

"We don't know what caused the bus to leave the roadway," said Lt. Joe Piggott of the Alabama Highway Patrol. 

► March 2017: Texas church bus crash death toll rises to 13
► December 2016: Bus driver in fatal crash had history of seizures, prior wrecks

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott offered his condolences over the crash.

"I pray for a speedy recovery for all those injured, and I am especially grateful for the heroic actions of the Alabama first responders that undoubtedly helped save lives today," Abbott said.

Contributing: Jim Little, Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal; KHOU-TV, Houston; The Associated Press. Follow Jake Newby, Melissa Nelson Gabriel and Emma Kennedy on Twitter: @JakeNewby07, @mnelsongab_PNJ and @byemmakennedy