Seven people from two families died Saturday morning in a head-on collision on State Route 64 approximately nine miles north of Williams.
Darren Fitzgerald and Guy Mikkelsen, two Williams-Grand Canyon News employees, in transit to the Canyon arrived on the accident scene within less than a minute after the impact.
"We saw smoke rising and thought the train to the Canyon had broken down," Fitzgerald said. "When we saw it was an accident, we stopped.
"As we went toward the vehicles, I started to realize this was not like any wreck I’ve seen before. This is like a bomb had gone off."
Fitzgerald said the van was in flames and witnessed its gas tank exploding. Initially, he said he mistook van passengers for people on the scene offering assistance.
Mikkelsen gave his first impressions of the scene.
"As we approached the accident, the gas tank on the van boomed loudly as survivors were scrambling to get clear of the inferno," he said. "The sights of the overwhelming pain and suffering saturated the scene. Victims seemed to be everywhere."
Mikkelsen said he felt a sense of disbelief and helplessness.
"I tried to be of assistance or comfort to those trapped in the car," he said. "I wish I could have done more.
"My heart pours out for all those who died and, moreover, for those who survived."
The crash occurred at 11:05 a.m. A 2000 Ford van with California plates transporting 18 family members was traveling southbound on SR 64 when a gray 2000 Dodge Intrepid with California plates traveling northbound crossed the centerline. The two vehicles collided head-on, with the bus overturning and bursting into flames. Apparently, the Intrepid was attempting to pass a vehicle ahead of it when it crossed into the left-hand lane.
Five people in the Ford van died at the scene. Two other passengers in the van were transported to the Phoenix burn center in critical condition.
Another 11 occupants in the van were transported to the Flagstaff Medical center for treatment of their injuries, which range from serious to moderate and did not appear to be life threatening.
Two occupants in the Dodge died at the scene from their injuries, and two other passengers were transported to the FMC for treatment of their injuries.
Emergency personnel at the scene included the DPS Ranger helicopter, two Angel Air helicopters, a Native Air helicopter and several ground ambulances.
On Monday, Mark Hall, DPS public information officer released the following list of passengers in the two vehicles. The two people killed in the sedan were Mohammed R. Islam, the 42-year-old driver, and 14-year-old Raqfil Islam. The two other passengers in the car were injured. Feroza Bilkis, 36, was admitted to FMC and Rumana Islam, 19, was admitted to FMC for observation. All four were from Van Nuys, Calif.
Van passengers who died included Maria T. Zapata, 78, of Guatemala; Consuelo Zapata, 52, Dora Lima-Zapata, 39, Milvia Lima, 34, and Anthony Lucero, 1, all of Los Angeles. Injured passengers included Sarah Ortiz, 29, of Guatemala and Ulisa Lima, 5, of Los Angeles, both admitted to the Maricopa County burn unit; Jose Zapata, 56, of Guatemala, Andina Lucero, 32, Freddy Lucero, 31, Cynthia Ortiz, 25, Cesar Lima, 24, Augusto Zapata, 19, and Michael Lucero, 9, all of Los Angeles were admitted to FMC. Four individuals from the van were admitted to FMC for observation — the driver, Mario A. Zapata, 44, and Galo Zapata, 10, both of Los Angeles; Jose A. Favola, 10, and Alexandra Favola, 6, both of Guatemala.
On Monday, DPS held a debriefing session at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Williams for those who witnessed the fatal accident.