Students on a bus involved in a fatal crash with a delivery truck described a "surreal" scene, including passengers desperately scrambling to escape thick smoke as they kicked through windows of the burning bus.
Jonathan Gutierrez, 17, was one of several Southern California high school students on the bus that crashed with a FedEx truck Thursday, killing at least 10 people in northern California. He was sleeping at the back of the bus at the time of the violent impact on Interstate 5 north of Sacramento.
“It was just a big bang. I had my eyes closed. I was trying to go to sleep. When I heard it I was just like, 'What just happened?' I didn’t want to believe that we crashed but, it was surreal moment," Gutierrez said.
Another student, Karmin Aguilar, was also surprised by what he saw.
"I looked forward to the bus and I just see fire. Just fire, a ball of fire. And then...ball of fire," Aguilar said.
The students were on an 11-hour trip that departed from Union Station. They were bound for Humboldt County to visit Humboldt State University, party of a tour involving two other buses.
The bus that crashed was carrying 19 LA Unified School District students from 16 high schools. Nearly 50 people were on board the bus that crashed.
Gutierrez (below) was one of two students on the bus from Banning High School in Wilmington.
He told NBC4 the impact was sudden, extremely painful and immediately ignited a fire. He said there was one emergency exit and that most passengers smashed open windows to escape.
"It was very hard to breathe. I started to panic just overwhelmed with what was going on so I just grabbed my phone and I jumped out. I had no shoes on or anything," Gutierrez said.
"Everybody, like three people were trying to fit through the window at one time," Aguilar added.
Gutierrez told NBC4 that he had planned to sit in the front of the bus, but moved to the back after his friend convinced him to do so. He added that most of the damage occurred in the front of the bus.
"When I see the pictures now it’s unbelievable. I was in that and something could have happened to me and I am grateful I survived." Gutierrez said. "My apologies and condolences to the families. Like, it’s something that makes us think we can take life for granted."