Survivors of a school bus-train crash that killed 23 Jordan High School students and their bus driver nearly 50 years ago are planning a reunion Dec. 1 - the anniversary of the crash that still stands as one of the nation's worst school bus accidents.
Stories and pictures of the fatal accident, which occurred at a crossing near 106th South and Third West, filled the Deseret News for nearly a week, survivor Douglas Brown remembers. "There were 39 aboard the Jordan High School bus and only 15 survived."I was only 16 at the time. The bus was going north, up a low hill over the track and had to make almost a 90 degree turn. It was snowing, the bus stopped and the driver opened the door. We heard nothing and the bus went ahead - and then the train hit us, broadside. It was a freight train and it literally tore the bus apart. It is something I will never, can never forget," Brown said.
The impact came about a third of the way back from the front of the bus, he said, and killed the student he was sitting next to. Brown was hurt, but not seriously. People all around him were killed.
"It was about 8:30 a.m., about a half hour before school started. I remember coming to inside the bus. There was something heavy on my back. I raised up and passed out and the next thing I knew I was outside in the cold air standing up, leaning against a fence.
"Bodies were all over in the damp snow. A friend of mine, La Raine Freeman was hit so hard it knocked his shoes off and he was sitting, dazed, on a low board fence and he asked me to go get his shoes for him in the bus.
"I went to the bus and searched around among the bodies and debris. I found his shoes and brought them back to La Raine and he and I walked to a farm house in a field about half a block away and found some people and told them about the accident and they telephoned for help."
Brown said he was cut on the head and right leg and was bleeding. "La Raine and I waited for a while and ambulances came and took us and others to theold Salt Lake County Hospital on 21st South."
He said the students on the bus lived in Bluffdale, Riverton, South Jordan and Crescent. "Several of my good friends died in the crash. It was a terrible tragedy."
Brown, 66, who grew up in Riverton, graduated from Jordan High School in 1941 and spent three years in the Merchant Marine in the Pacific during World War II.
Today, Brown does custom butchering and has a mobile butcher shop in his pickup truck. He and his wife, Bee, have seven children, three boys and four girls, and 19 grandchildren.
"I got the idea to have a 50th reunion of the accident and got in touch with another survivor, Glen W. Kump, in Bluffdale, and he and I have been working closely the past few weeks trying to find other survivors and plan the reunion.
"Of the 15 who survived the crash, La Raine is dead and so is Margie Groves. Glen and I have found all the others except Oweneva Green. I have asked the LDS Church to help us find her."
The other 10 survivors, he said, include Margie Beckstead, American Fork; Emanuel Beckstead, South Jordan, and his sister, Chloe Beckstead, Salt Lake City; Ann Webb Mabey, South Jordan, and her brother, Russell Webb, West Jordan; Louise Hardman, California; Mack Bateman, Idaho; Manford Osborne, Salt Lake City; and Mable Smith, Orem, and her sister, Ida Smith, Midvale.
Kump, 65, said he was 15 and in the 10th grade at Jordan High School when the crash occurred.
"I remember the bus stopped in front of the railroad crossing, the driver opened the door and it was so quiet you could hear the wind. It was snowing and the snow was melting as it hit the ground.
"Then, as the bus moved ahead I heard the train whistle and then the train hit us, all in a fraction of a second. I was in the next to the last seat in the back of the bus, near the aisle, and I was thrown out the back door of the bus and ended up on the ground."
Kump said most of the people who were sitting around him in the bus survived. "I picked myself up off the ground and looked around. I was amazed to see all the shoes on the ground without anybody in them. I will never forget all the shoes.
"I saw a boy on the ground and I knew he was dead. The crash had torn off most of his clothing and pulled his pants down around his feet. I remember stopping to pick up a jacket and put it over him because his nakedness upset me."
He said the train was practically past the school bus before it was able to stop. Trainmen came and uncoupled the last two or three cars, he said, and moved them back so the road could be cleared. "After a while, a school bus and ambulances came and took everybody away. I got in the bus and it took me and some of the others to the county hospital.
"I just had some bruises. Three or four of the survivors were hurt so badly they were hospitalized for weeks and some didn't get back to school for months."
Kump said school was closed that day and the next. He didn't go back to school for nearly a week, until all the memorial services for the dead were conducted.
Kump and his wife, Norma, have nine children, six boys and three girls, and 28 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.