Prestonsburg, KY School Bus Plunges Into Big Sandy River, Feb 1958
LOADED SCHOOL BUS PLUNGES INTO RIVER.
21 CHILDREN, DRIVER FEARED DEAD IN FLOYD COUNTY CRASH.
12 STUDENTS ESCAPE BEFORE BUS FALLS REST OF WAY INTO RAIN-SWOLLEN BIG SANDY RIVER.
Prestonsburg, Ky. (UP) -- A school bus loaded with children plunged over a 50-foot bluff into the Big Sandy River three miles south of here today, with 21 of the 33 children aboard and the driver believed to have been killed or drowned.
WALTER MAY, news director of radio station WPRT, returned from the scene of the accident and said 12 of the children had been rescued.
MAY said the bus was carrying children from Cow Creek and Knotley Hollow sections into Prestonsburg Grade School when it plowed into the wreckage of two cars which previously had collided on U.S. Highway 23 south of here.
The bus veered off the wreckage, teetered a moment on the edge of the road, then dropped some 50 feet down an almost sheer embankment into the river, which was swollen by recent heavy rains.
The bus first landed about half in and half out of the water, MAY said, and remained there for a few moments, during which time the driver, JOHN DeROSSETT helped 12 of the children escape through the emergency door.
Then the bus fell all the way into the stream with DeROSSETT and the other children still aboard and is now lost in the river. Rescuers have been unable to locate it.
State police at Hazard, Ky., said about 12 of the children had been rescued, but it was not known to what extent they were injured. Fate of the others aboard the bus also was still unknown.
MRS. HERSHEL WARREN, wife of the Floyd County sheriff, said the number of children on the bus was not known exactly. Other reports indicated there were at least 30 aboard, besides driver JOHN DeROSSETT.
First reports said the bus was completely or almost completely submerged ini the river.
MRS. WARREN said reports to her husband were that another car, had gone off the road at the spot, and a wrecker was trying to pull it out. DeROSSETT was trying to get the bus past the wrecker when the bus skidded and went over the bank.
Kentucky state police at Hazard said they had a report that 12 bodies had been pulled from the submerged wreckage.
MRS. WARREN was not certain but thought the embankment over which the bus plunged was as much as 100 feet high at that point.
The bus was bound for Consolidated High School and Elementary School in Prestonsburg.
At Frankfort, the state capital, state Superintendent of Public Instruction DR. ROBERT R. MARTIN said, "This is a frightful tragedy, surely the worst in the history of school transportation."
MARTIN said he was rushing two of his top officials to Floyd County to see if any assistance could be given.
Gov. A. B. CHANDLER was not in his office when the news broke, but his press secretary, HARRY G. DAVIS, said he had instructed the State Adjutant General's Department, the Department of Highways, the Department of Economic Security, and other state agencies to give all possible aid.
Social workers of the Economic Security Department were being sent into the Floyd County area to offer comfort to the families of the victims.
Lt. Col. TAYLOR DAVIDSON, of the adjutant general's office, sent a National Guard officer to the wreck scene to find out if guard troops could be of any help.
Highway Department personnel in the area were being used to keep traffic moving around the wreck scene and to keep the roads clear of unnecessary traffic and curiosity seekers.
Middlesboro Daily News Kentucky 1958-02-28
DIVERS TO SEARCH BIG SANDY RIVER FOR SCHOOL BUS.
26 CHILDREN, DRIVER LOST IN RAIN-SWOLLEN STREAM.
Prestonsburg, Ky. (UP) -- Divers go to the bottom of treacherous and swift big Sandy River today to seek the bodies of 26 children and a bus driver, victims of the most tragic school bus accident in the nation's history.
The victims died when the bus, which carried high school and grade school pupils, plunged over a 50-foot cliff into the rain-swollen river after a collision with two other vehicles Friday morning.
Fourteen other children escaped through an emergency door before the swift current sucked the bus under water and carried it downstream for at least 50 feet.
It was likely bodies were swept off the bus after it submerged.
GOBLES' Lose Three Children.
MR. and MRS. JAMES B. GOBLE lost their three children. Two other families were left childless. Seven families lost two children each.
The small farming communities in this area were stunned by the tragedy. The village of Cow Creek, where about 100 families reside, lost 14 children.
GOBLE runs the community store in Cow Creek. His wife teaches 33 children in the village's grade school. They lost their three children, JAMES E., 12, JOHN SPENCER, 11, and ANNA LAURA, 9.
MRS. GOBLE was teaching when BILL DARBY, a neighbor, ran to the schoolhouse to tell her what had happened.
"I prayed that at least one of the three might be saved, but I knew in my heart I had lost all my children," she said.
Daughter, Sister Drowned.
Later, DARBY learned he had lost his daughter, sister and niece in the accident. Three divers sought to locate the bus on the rocky river bottom and attach cables to the vehicle. A raft was taken out and anchored for use of the divers and their equipment.
A powerful bulldozer was ready to pull the submerged vehicle to the shore when lines were attached.
Coast Guard Lt. JOHN MUNDY, in charge of the operation estimated it would take at least seven hours.
The bus was located 10 hours after it dropped into the river. It lay in about 20 feet of water, 50 feet downstream from where it toppled into the stream. The river is about 100 feet wide at the spot. The current is 6 knots, about 8 miles per hour.
BILL LEEDY, 12, of Sugar Loaf, Ky., opened the emergency door when the bus hit water and was the first to escape the death trap.
"I had a numb feeling when the bus went over the cliff," he said.
LIST OF FATALITIES IN THE SCHOOL BUS DISASTER.
DORIS FAYE BURCHETT, 15, of Emma.
JAMES EDISON CAREY, 9, of Emma.
GLENDA MAY CISCO, 17, and her brother, KENNETH F. CISCO, 14, of Sugar Loaf.
SANDRA FAYE CLINE, 8, and her sister, PAULETTE CLINE, 9, of Lancer.
IMOGENE DARBY, 17, of Cow Creek.
LINDA DARBY, 14, of Cow Creek.
JOHN ALEX DeROSSETT, 27, of Water Gap.
JAMES EDWARD GOBLE, 12, his brother, JOHN SPENCER GOBLE, 11, and sister, ANNA LAURA GOBLE, 9, of Emma.
JANE CAROL HARRIS, 14, of Emma.
JOHN HARLAN HUGHES, JR., of Emma.
MARGARET LOUISE HUNT, 15, of Cow Creek.
BUCKY RAY JARRELL, 14, and his sister, KATIE CAROL JARRELL, 13, of Sugar Loaf.
MARCELLA JERVIS, 14, of Emma.
MONTAINE JERVIS, 15, of Endicott.
THOMAS ROOSEVELT JERVIS, 13, of Buffalo Creek.
KATHERINE JUSTICE, 15, of Endicott.
NANNIE JOYCE McPEEK, 17, of Lancer.
JOYCE ANN MATNEY, 14, and her sister, RITA CHERYL MATNEY, 8, of Lancer.
JAMES L. MEADE, JR., 9, of Lancer.
JAMES THOMAS OUSLEY, 15, of Lancer.
RANDY SCOTT WALLEN, 17, of Lancer.
Middlesboro Daily News Kentucky 1958-03-01
Researched and Transcribed by Stu Beitler. Thank you, Stu!