This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Updated at 4:37 p.m.
A beautiful spring day for sightseeing in the nation’s capital turned tragic early Monday when a chartered bus carrying 26 eighth-grade students from C.W. Henry School in Mt. Airy on a field trip was involved in a crash with a car on Interstate 95 in Havre de Grace, Md., injuring more than two dozen passengers.
Two of the bus passengers — one adult and one child — were airlifted from the crash site with critical injuries.
The student was taken to Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., and the teacher was transferred to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. The District did not release any information on their medical condition.
The remaining passengers involved in the crash —25 students, one teacher, one parent, and the driver — were sent to five different hospitals for treatment. Several of the children were treated and released.
"On behalf of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, I express our thoughts and prayers to the C.W. Henry children, staff, and chaperones involved in today’s horrific bus accident,” said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
“As we await further information regarding our injured students and staff, I know that educators across the city and nation are keeping the Henry community in our thoughts.”
According to a District press release, everyone on the bus was accounted for after the accident, but the District was having some trouble contacting crash victims’ family members. Superintendent William Hite told reporters at a press conference that, if necessary, District staff would go to the houses of children whose parents they could not reach.
Henry School will serve as a reunification center for families awaiting their children’s return. The school will be open all night with student support services, including the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, officials said. School police and counselors were dispatched to the school to talk with upset parents, students and teachers.
For parents looking to travel to Maryland to pick up their children, Hite said the District is working on a transportation plan. He said a bus with District staff is on its way to a unification center in Maryland, where children released from hospitals will be sent.
Mayor Jim Kenney stood alongside Hite during the press conference, pledging support from the city in helping the students with a “smooth transition back” to Philadelphia.
“I wish everyone well. We’ll get our kids back as soon as we can,” Kenney said.
Maryland State Police said the accident appeared to have been caused by a southbound passenger car that attempted to pass the bus, lost control, came back across the lanes, and clipped the front of the bus.
"As the driver of the passenger vehicle entered lane one, he lost control of his vehicle for unknown reasons and drove off on the left side of the interstate, then returned to the travel portion, crossing all three lanes of traffic. The passenger vehicle clipped the front of the passenger bus as it cross in front of it," according to a state police press release. "After being struck, the passenger bus traveled off the right side of the interstate, struck an embankment and then struck a tree before overturning onto its left side. The bus came to rest across the slow and middle lanes of the interstate."
The state police said witnesses told them that the car was "proceeding around the bus" when it struck the front end of the bus.
Police said they would not be filing any charges in the crash immediately.
Hite offered his gratitude to the first responders, among whom were Philadelphia police cadets who happened to be traveling down I-95 at the time of the crash.
The Henry PTA posted a notice on its Facebook page asking for family members of the crash victims to call 410-838-5800, the Harford County Emergency Services hotline, for information on patient reunification and updates.
The two classes of eighth-graders were on a field trip to the Newseum, Lincoln Memorial and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, according to District officials. The chartered bus they were riding in is owned by Werner Coach.
The company issued a statement on the crash through the American Bus Association.
"Werner Coach is cooperating fully with police, officials from the Maryland State Police and others to assist the passengers involved in the accident in Maryland," the statement said. "Werner Coach wishes to express its sorrow and sympathy to those impacted by this accident. Werner places the safe transportation of all their passengers at the highest level. With more than 88 years in operation, they strive to make a trip on one of our coaches a great experience.
For more information about the passengers on the bus, parents are encouraged to call 215-400- 5858.