Passengers on a school bus have “miraculously” survived crashing down an embankment after their vehicle was hit from behind by a truck on a highway west of Melbourne, police say.
The bus was slowing down to avoid an earlier crash when it was hit, leading to two teenage girls and two adults being seriously injured.
The school bus was on the Western highway at Bacchus Marsh in the early hours of Wednesday morning carrying four adults and 27 students in years nine to 11 from Ballarat’s Loreto College to Tullamarine airport for a trip to the US.
“Quite miraculously, they’ve self-evacuated and other people, I believe truck drivers and that, stopped to assist them,” Detective Inspector Roger Schranz told reporters on Wednesday.
“I would have assumed someone would have passed away out of this entire tragedy. So they’re all very fortunate people.”
Two teenage girls were flown to the Royal Children’s hospital in a serious but stable condition.
A woman in her 40s and a man in his 50s were taken to the Royal Melbourne in a serious but stable condition.
Eighteen others were taken to various hospitals in a stable condition.
Ballarat Base hospital took on 16 patients from the crash, with operator Grampians Health declaring a “code brown” to divert resources to its emergency department.
By 2.30pm on Wednesday, it dropped the code brown declaration, and half an hour later, 13 patients had been discharged. The remaining three were admitted to the hospital and in a stable condition, a Grampians Health spokeswoman said.
Police will investigate whether drugs, alcohol or speed were factors in the crash.
Melbourne-bound highway lanes were expected to be closed for the rest of the day as investigators analysed the scene.
The students’ parents were asked to stay away from the crash and contact Ballarat police station.
The coach operator said in a statement their driver managed to get everyone out of the bus before being taken to Austin hospital for shock.
The owner of Little’s Coaches also personally took 11 students and some parents to Ballarat Base hospital in a separate bus following the crash.
On Wednesday the premier, Daniel Andrews, said the images of the crash “were shocking”.
“My thoughts go out to the students, teachers and drivers affected, and the whole Ballarat community,” he tweeted.
“I’ve spoken with Loreto College’s principal and we’ll give the school community all the support they need.”
Andrews thanked the first responders for taking care of everyone involved and asked motorists to be patient.
“If you’re driving towards the city, please be patient. VicPol has asked motorists to use a different route if possible as lanes will be closed for some time as they carry out their investigations,” Andrews said.
Nearby resident Ange Greenland woke to the sound of the air ambulance arriving.
She said the crash site was “pretty nasty” and it was distressing that the young girls had to walk up the embankment after the crash.
“They walked up the off ramp to a waiting bus half a kilometre away,” she said.
In a statement the school thanked emergency services for coordinating care and providing triage at the scene.
“Our caring Loreto community has deep concern for the injured and their families and we ask for their privacy to be respected,” it said.