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Word began trickling in to the high schoolers, so far from home, when their panicked parents called them. The remote forest brought spotty telephone reception and lots of confusion.
"It’s pretty surreal. We got the information in pieces," Eagle Rock High School student Matt Velasco told the university’s Lumberjack Newspaper. "It’s still sinking in."
The fact that the students were at a pivotal moment of their young lives exacerbated the tragedy for school officials.
"These injuries and loss of life are made all the more poignant by the fact that these students were preparing for college, poised on the edge of an exciting time full of possibility," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said.
Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy said the students were "about to visit a place that was obviously going to be a part of their dreams."
Timothy White, chancellor of the 23-campus California State University system, said "these are the very students that California needs to be successful going forward."
"And so we are doubly saddened by the fact that many of them are first generation and students from low income, who have done all the right academic things and had their dream of going to Humboldt State taken away by this tragic accident," he said.
The bus was operated by Silverado Stages Inc., which is based in the central coast city of San Luis Obispo but operates buses throughout the West.
CEO Michael Vodarsik said only that the company was "working closely with authorities" and trying to support passengers and families of the dead.
FedEx Chairman Frederick Smith, in a statement, expressed his "deepest personal sympathies and the condolences of over 300,000 other FedEx team members to everyone involved in this accident."
The CHP and the National Transportation Safety Board were investigating, but warned it could take months to conclude what happened.
Mark Rosekind, an NTSB member, said Friday that the agency would be gathering information over the next one to two weeks. He said it will review whether the stretch of California freeway where the bus was struck should have had a barrier along the median to prevent head-on collisions.
In addition, Rosekind said it will determine whether a fire suppression system recommended but not mandated for buses would have made a difference in the crash.
Associated Press writers Lisa Leff in San Francisco and Daisy Nguyen, Tami Abdollah and Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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