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Bus, Van Swept Into River; Two Dead, 9 Are Missing

July 17, 1987|Associated Press

COMFORT, Tex. — A church bus and a van carrying 43 people from a children's camp to a rafting expedition were swept into a rain-swollen river today, leaving up to nine people missing as survivors clung to trees awaiting rescue, authorities said.

A 16-year-old girl died when she fell 100 feet from a rope dangled by a rescue helicopter, said Mike Cox, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety. Another body was found later.

Nine people were missing hours after the 7 a.m. accident, according to area supervisor Sgt. Charles Seale. The accident occurred at a crossing on the Guadalupe River, which was experiencing its worst flooding in 55 years, authorities said.

Most of the victims were teen-agers.

19 Others Hurt

At least 19 people were injured, said David Wells of the Department of Public Safety. Two people were in critical condition, with "anywhere from five to seven who are in stable condition," according to Kathy Sakach, a dispatcher for the Kerr County Emergency Medical Services.

"I'm fine. I'm just worried about my kids," said the bus driver, Richard (Whitey) Koons, 26.

Koons said he was taking the youngsters to a rafting expedition when the bus stalled at a ford on the Guadalupe River that is normally covered by low water. He told the children to get out, and some were swept away. The bus then toppled into the flood.

Almost a foot of rain fell in the area this morning, causing the worst flooding of the Guadalupe River at nearby Hunt since July, 1932, the National Weather Service said. The river had risen 16 feet above flood stage by 4 a.m.

Hand to Hand

One youngster, Jason Hernandez, 13, of Dallas, said a friend rescued him by handing him a branch to hold until a helicopter could pick him up.

"He saved my life. I said several prayers," Hernandez said.

Seale said 43 people were aboard the two vehicles, which were from the Seagoville Road Baptist Church in Balch Springs, near Dallas. They had been at the Pot o' Gold camp, about 60 miles northwest of San Antonio, since Monday.

Koons said a vehicle ahead of him created a wake as he tried to pass through the low-water crossing, and his bus stalled.

Koons, a youth pastor of the group, said he tried to back up, but the church van was following too closely. Koons said he then told the youths to get out, but that when they did many were swept downstream.

Many of the children saved themselves by clinging to trees. Children emerged from helicopters wrapped in blankets, some without shoes and with tattered clothing.

"We have hypothermia and shock patients who are children," Sakach said.

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