The collision and plunge into a river involving a school bus near Prestonsburg, Kentucky on February 28, 1958 was the most disastrous bus accident in the history of the United States.
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 at Prestonsburg 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.
Twenty-Two 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. Kentucky National Guard and other authorities and agencies responded. The bus was finally located by Navy divers, and removed from the river 55 hours later.
Over 500 Kentucky National Guardsmen were activated during the sixty-nine day search and recovery operation for the victims of this tragic incident.
Kentucky Guardsmen involved count the Prestonsburg Bus Tragedy as the grimmest state duty they ever performed. The accident drew nationwide sympathy for the parents of the children and respect for the stoic courage of the Prestonsburg people.
Fifty years later, the 27 person death toll is tied with the Carrollton, Kentucky bus disaster in 1988 for the highest number of fatalities resulting from a bus accident. Both accidents occurred 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 in the country.
Citation for Service
Citation given by the families of the children who perished in the Prestonsburg School Bus Disaster to individual member of the Kentucky National Guard who assisted.
50th ANNIVERSARY REMEMBRANCE
1958 - 2008
The Prestonsburg School Bus Disaster
28 February – 10 May 1958
John M. Trowbridge
Jackie Branham Hall
and Jason M. LeMay
KYNG Remembrance of the 50th Anniversary of the Prestonsburg School Bus Disaster 1958 - 2008 Booklet