ORLAND, Calif. -- It was a busload of opportunity: young, low-income, motivated students, destined to become the first in their families to go to college, journeying from the concrete sprawl of Los Angeles to a remote redwood campus 650 miles north.
Those dreams shattered for some Thursday in a freeway collision and fire that left 10 dead -- students, chaperones and both drivers -- and dozens hospitalized.
Desperate families awaited word of loved ones Friday, while investigators tried to figure out why a southbound FedEx big rig swerved across the grassy divide of California's key artery before sideswiping a car and slamming into the tour bus, which burst into a furious blaze.
The Serrato family, whose identical twin 17-year-old daughters set off on the adventure on separate buses Thursday, had a panicked, sleepless night. Marisol made it to their destination, Humboldt State University, but there was no word from Marisa, who had been aboard the now-gutted bus. Friday morning, when a sheriff's deputy asked for Marisa's dental records -- a grim request made to several families -- her brother Miguel, 23, said his family was "getting a little bit scared." His mother booked a flight north.
Humboldt alumni Michael Myvett, 29, and his fiancee, Mathison Haywood, who were chaperoning, also were killed. Mr. Myvett was a therapist at an autism treatment center. "He just died," his grandmother Debra Loyd said, her voice breaking with emotion in the early afternoon Friday. "They have already confirmed it."
Mr. Myvett's manager, Kyle Farris, said he was "extraordinary," and that he connected with their children "on a level few others could, and he contributed to their wellbeing in such a positive and profound way," Mr. Farris said.
A Facebook photo shows Ms. Haywood flashing a shining diamond engagement ring on her finger and kissing Mr. Myvett in December near the Louvre Museum in Paris.
The bus was among three that Humboldt had chartered as part of its two-day Preview Plus program to bring prospective students to tour the Arcata campus, according to university officials. Before launching the event Friday, university Vice President Peg Blake's voice broke as she asked a crowded theater for a moment of silence in honor of everyone affected by the accident.
Most survivors were injured, some with critical burns or broken limbs. Those who made it out said they scrambled through a kicked-out window. Those who could do it sprinted, while others staggered, in a desperate dash to the opposite side of Interstate 5 before the vehicle exploded.
"We knew we were in major trouble," said Steven Clavijo, a high school senior from Santa Clarita, who was trying to nap when he felt the bus shake before a loud boom. After he escaped, two more blasts followed. He and other survivors watched helplessly, knowing their peers were trapped in the inferno.
The 44 teens aboard, from dozens of different Southern California high schools, were participating in a program that invites prospective low-income or first-generation college students to visit Humboldt. They were supposed to join hundreds more potential students from across California and the West for a long weekend, paired with existing students and staying in dorms.
The California Highway Patrol and the National Transportation Safety Board were investigating, but warned it could take months to determine what happened.