Columbia University students Olivia Erhardt, 19, Daniella Moffson, 21, and Abigail Flanagan, 45, had spent a week volunteering in Central America, helping the poor and sick and working with doctors and pharmacists in Honduras, Panama, and Nicaragua.
Sadly, as the three women, part of a group of 25 students from Columbia and Barnard College, made their way to the airport to go home, their bus crashed after it swerved off the road and fell into a ravine, NBC News reported.
All three women were killed in the crash.
“We loved her dearly, I still can’t believe it happened,” said Olivia’s grandmother, Martha. “I’m still in a little bit of denial. I keep thinking it must be a mistake.”
On Wednesday, the group left the town of San Juancito and headed to the airport. The bus crash occurred east of the capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa, CBS News added.
According to officials, the bus veered off the road along the way, and crashed into a gully at a height of 260 feet. NBC reported that the bus crashed 80 feet into a ravine. The cause of the crash isn’t yet known, but local authorities believe it may have been caused by a mechanical failure.
Two Columbia University students and a U.S. health care worker volunteering in Honduras die in bus crash: https://t.co/1RedR0Lxpw— The Associated Press (@AP) January 14, 2016
Shortly after the accident, the college confirmed that the women were killed in a crash, saying the accident occurred “while traveling in Honduras on a volunteer mission organized by the humanitarian, nonprofit group Global Brigades. Three fatalities have been reported, and the families have been notified. We are in the process of determining the full extent of the injuries sustained by the bus passengers and contacting families.”
At least 12 other Americans were injured in the crash. All of them may have been students, but that’s not yet clear. All of them are in stable condition at the Valle de Angeles Adventist Hospital, said its administrator, Reynaldo Canales.
Columbia clarified that the bus was driving students from both their universities. Barnard is affiliated with Columbia, and the two institutions are neighbors in Upper Manhattan. About 25 people from both colleges volunteered for the mission organized by the humanitarian, nonprofit group, Global Brigades. They were travelling through Honduras, Panama, and Nicaragua for six days to help the sick and the poor in San Juancito and Valle de Angeles.
The university’s president, Lee Bollinger, announced the deaths of the three students and offered spoke highly of all three women.
“This terrible and tragic loss is all the greater because these individuals were dedicating their passion and very special talents to serving those in need. No endeavor more proudly exemplifies the traditions and values of our University.”
Not much information was available about the crash victims, except that Flanagan was also a nurse practitioner at Columbia University Medical Center. Erdhardt began her studies in astrophysics, but was considered lab tech work after an internship at Cincinnati children’s hospital.
Back in Honduras, forensic teams are preparing the bodies to be returned to the U.S. after the bus crash. According the Columbia Spectator, medical support and personnel staff are heading to Honduras to offer support on site, according to a statement.
“We are in the process of determining the full extent of the injuries sustained by the bus passengers and contacting families of our student. Our thoughts are with all those who have been affected by this tragic loss. We will provide further information to the university community as it becomes available.”
Global Brigades organizes “international health and development missions.” It described the mission in Honduras as an “opportunity to take vitals and patient history in triage, shadow licensed doctors in medical consultations, and assist in a pharmacy under the direction of licensed pharmacists,” the New York Times reported.
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