'Nothing short of a miracle' - Officials react to Henryville bus security video


by Joe Arnold


Posted on March 30, 2012 at 4:50 PM

Updated Friday, Mar 30 at 6:25 PM

Watch Joe Arnold's story in the player above or Click to go to the full raw video clip

HENRYVILLE, Ind. (WHAS11) – Henryville school bus security video revealed by WHAS11 on Thursday is sparking both pride and anxiety for those who lived through the March 2 tornadoes that swept across Indiana and Kentucky.

"It put me back in the middle of the storm," said Jim Scroggin, the West Clark Transportation Director.

Scroggin reviewed the tape of Bus #211, driven by Angel Perry, with Assistant Superintendent John Reed.

"There were just a tremendous amount of miracles that happened that day," Scroggin said. "[If] anyone of those things hadn't taken place, we could have had a tragedy."

The video shows a Henryville bus being tossed into a diner, just three minutes after Perry turned the bus around mid-route and successfully delivered eleven students to seek shelter in the school. 

"Everybody stay together," Perry is heard saying while escorting the children off the bus. "Our group together. Yeah go go go go go go go go!"  Perry is heard counting off each child.

Perry's cell phone can still be seen in the driver's seat when the tornado begins to rock her bus on the video. One minute later, the bus is blown away.

For ten terrifying minutes, the lives of hundreds of children were in the hands of Perry and 20 other bus drivers -- each formulating a plan and sharing information as the monster EF-4 tornado bore down on Henryville.

Citing privacy concerns, West Clark Community Schools would only release the audio portion of the security footage in which children are still on the bus.

Click to go to the full raw video clip

It is a heart-pounding account of the critical decisions made by the bus drivers as the huge funnel cloud took aim at the town.

Radio:  I see the tornado on the ground north of the school.
Perry:  If you got a book to put over your head, do it. Get in the middle ....
Driver:  67 - this is bus 208.  I do have a safe place to get all the kids, the remaining kids on the bus,
Perry:  Guys, we're just going to go as fast as we can into the school.

"She's keeping the kids calm," Scroggin explained, "asking them to remain quiet. You can see the whole process of her formulating a plan to get the students to safety."

"You see the anxiety with the kids and you see the anxiety with the driver," Scroggin continued. "But you can see her at different points take a deep breath and regain her composure and the kids really responding to her directives."

Nearly three miles from school, at the intersection of Henryville-Otisco and Heil Roads, Perry decided to head back. 

"I believe Henryville Otisco Road was actually hit as hard or harder than the school," Scroggin said. "So it turned out to be a really brilliant decision."

Within minutes, the neighborhood now in Perry's rear view mirror would be devastated.

The series of decisions made first by administrators to dismiss classes early, then by the school bus drivers to seek shelter threaded a needle. None of the students, teachers or staff of Henryville schools were killed or seriously injured.

Click to go to the full raw video clip

"It's nothing short of a miracle," Reed said. "It looked like we had been practicing this a dozen times and it was just a well-oiled machine on the Second."

"There is no rational explanation on how things went that particular day," Reed said. "The thing I will tell you I heard repeatedly is individuals feeling compelled for whatever reason, I have my own thoughts on that, for whatever reason to get the kids out of Henryville."

"And there's no doubt in my mind after looking at all the aftermath that we would have had loss of life and significant injuries if we would have had children staying in that school building."

For the first time since that day, Henryville high school students will climb back on to buses on Monday morning. While their school is rebuilt, classes will resume at Mid-America Science Park in Scottsburg, where construction and set-up continued Friday afternoon.

"It's going to be late nights," Reed said. "It's going to be work over the weekend as well. We'll probably be shuffling things around Sunday night."

"I think the first couple of days are just going to be telling stories though of what the students experienced," said Erica Pangburn, Henryville High Choral Director, "what they've done, if they lived through the tornado."

Cafeteria tables are being cleaned, supplies unloaded and the makeshift classrooms are getting close to school-ready.

"It's just getting all those final touches of what needs to be where," Reed said.

The return of 700 elementary students last week in New Albany was sort of a trial run. On Monday, 500 high school students will be added to the mix -- traveling 12 miles in the opposite direction.

"We don't know how many kids now are going to be able to ride with the jump in gas prices and the amount of parking spaces at the Scottsburg facility," Scroggin added.

It will be a challenging day for bus drivers. But nothing like four weeks ago.

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