Columbia University Students Among 3 Killed in Honduras Bus Crash

Two Columbia University students and a U.S. health care worker died Wednesday in Honduras when their bus crashed while taking them to the airport to fly home after a volunteer mission.

They were identified as 20-year-old Columbia student Olivia Erhardt and 21-year-old Barnard College student Daniella Moffson. Abigail Flanagan, a 45-year-old nurse practitioner at Columbia University Medical Center and a general studies student, was also killed. 

Twelve more Americans, including other Columbia students, were injured. Reinaldo Canales, administrator for the Valle de Angeles Adventist Hospital, said they were in stable condition.

U.S.-based Global Brigades, which organizes international health and development missions, posted a notice on its website saying the accident involved a bus transporting "Columbia University students and other volunteers," and that those killed were two students and a health care worker.

"Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to all those affected by this tragedy," said the statement, attributed to co-founder Steven Atamian. Phone messages left at Global Brigades headquarters in Seattle were not immediately returned.

Columbia said it was sending medical and support personnel to Honduras to provide additional on-site assistance.

"We are deeply saddened to report that earlier today a bus carrying a group of Columbia and Barnard students was involved in a serious accident while traveling in Honduras on a volunteer mission organized by the humanitarian, non-profit group Global Brigades," the university said in a statement Wednesday. "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 of our students." 

"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," the statement said. 

At The Ramaz School, a private Orthodox Jewish prep school on the Upper East Side, dean Ira Miller remembered Moffson as an excellent student and a sensitive soul who always wanteds to attend to those in need.

"She was always optimistic, cheerful, energetic, and she was always involved in helping other people," said Miller. 

The summer after ninth grade, Moffson went to South Africa to work at an AIDS clinic, Miller said. She later worked at a home for battered and abused children in Israel, and at summers camps for children with cancer. She also volunteered at pediatric wards. 

Columbia student Noah Lartigue said on campus Thursday, "Things happen every day but it's tough when it happens to your own people."

He learned one of his fraternity brothers was among the dozen injured. 

"I hope he's OK. Right now from what we can tell, he should be fine," he said. 

The bus crashed on a highway east of Tegucigalpa, the country's capital. Officials said the bus was traveling from the town of San Juancito when it veered off a road and fell about 80 feet into a water-worn ravine.

Firefighters' spokesman Capt. Gustavo Barahona said the crash was thought to be the result of mechanical failure.

He added that at the time of the accident, they were on their way to the airport to return to the United States after carrying out a health mission for poor residents of San Juancito and Valle de Angeles.

Alvarado said forensic workers were preparing the bodies to be returned to the United States.

The U.S. Embassy in Honduras said in a statement it was in close contact with local authorities and working to provide consular assistance to any who need it.

-- Marc Santia contributed to this report

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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