A Look Back: 20th Anniversary of the Catskills Bus Crash

A Look Back: 20th Anniversary of the Catskills Bus Crash

By Idy Perl

At this time of year, during the days of Sefirah, we mark the 20-year anniversary of a harrowing accident that occurred in the Catskills with a bus of 49 girls. 

The Bais Yaakov Monsey school had gone to Camp Gila campgrounds for a school Shabbaton, with all the students divided on multiple buses. On the way home in the early morning, the driver, not being familiar with the winding roads upstate, drove the bus off the road and into a ditch at the bottom of a steep incline. The bus landed on its side in a shallow brook. 

A special miracle was a new water main at the side of the road installed just days before. “When the bus rode over the top of the water main, it prevented it from plunging head-on at full speed into the creek, which would have caused a far worse crash with possible fatalities,” the Sullivan County Fire Coordinator Dick Martinkovic said.

BoroPark24 spoke with Mrs. Charna Ambers who was on the bus right behind the one that flipped over, and who had her sister and multiple friends on the bus. 

“It was terrifying. I’ll never forget running down the hill and seeing the bus on its side with heavy plumes of smoke billowing around it. I knew my sister and friends were on that bus and had no idea what their condition was. It was one of the most horrific moments in my life.”

A comment on social media in response to a recent post about this story reads, "Hatzalah responders arrived with body bags, expecting serious casualties."

The girls started slowly crawling out of the bus, bleeding, crying, and traumatized from what had occurred. Emergency services quickly arrived on the scene and transported over 30 girls to local hospitals. The majority of the girls on the bus sustained significant injuries, and plenty of girls were walking around in school with braces, casts, and walkers for the next few weeks. Miraculously, there were no fatalities from the accident. 

“The 12th grade graduation that year looked different than usual,” Charna remembers. “Since so many girls were injured, we didn’t do the traditional walk down the aisle. Instead, the graduation opened with all of us already sitting on stage. 

Although it took time for all of us to heal from the trauma,” she continues, “we kept thanking Hashem for the open miracles that we saw that day.”

Twenty years on, the memory of the miraculous events on that bus remains etched in the hearts and minds of all who experienced it firsthand.

photos: Sullivan County Bureau of Fire

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