Prestonsburg, Kentucky bus disaster

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Prestonsburg, Kentucky bus disaster
Date February 28, 1958
Location Prestonsburg, Kentucky
Bus School bus
Vehicles tow truck
Passengers 49
Deaths 27
A memorial to the disaster sits in front of the old Floyd County Courthouse in Prestonsburg.

The collision and plunge into Big Sandy River involving a school bus near Prestonsburg, Kentucky on February 28, 1958 was the third deadliest bus accident in United States history. It is tied for fatalities with the Carrollton, Kentucky bus collision in 1988, and the only deadlier crashes were a 1963 bus-train crash in Chualar, California and the 1976 Yuba City bus disaster, which claimed the lives of 29 people.


On a cold and cloudy morning, after a period of heavy rains and thaw, a Floyd County school bus loaded with 48 elementary and high school students bound for school in Prestonsburg, Kentucky on U.S. Route 23 struck the rear of a wrecker truck and plunged down an embankment and into the swollen waters of the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River, where it was swept downstream and submerged.

22 children escaped the bus in the first few minutes as it became fully submerged in the raging flood stage waters and made it safely out of the river. However, 26 other children and the bus driver drowned. National Guard and other authorities and agencies responded. The bus was finally located by Navy divers, and removed from the river 53 hours later.

Several months later, two American recording artists released pop songs about the accident: The Stanley Brothers, with "No School Bus in Heaven," and Ralph Bowman, with "The Tragedy of Bus 27." Neither made the national Billboard Hot 100 charts, but they did receive regional airplay in some parts of the country.

The 27 person death toll is tied with the Carrollton bus disaster in 1988 for the second highest number of fatalities resulting from a bus accident. Both happened in Kentucky and in each, the victims were all thought to have survived the initial collisions, but were unable to safely evacuate the school-type buses afterwards. After the 1988 accident, Kentucky changed its public school bus equipment requirements and requires a higher number of emergency exits than any other state or Canadian province.

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