He said it was a parent’s “worst nightmare”.
“It must have been horrific for the students, but just as horrific for their parents,” he said.
Schranz said the crash scene was “quite chaotic”, with people getting out of the bus, witnesses and bumper-to-bumper traffic.
He said the speed limit had been lowered to 40km/h on the stretch of road where the crash happened after an earlier crash and road workers were dealing with that incident when the second crash occurred.
“The truck has come around the corner and headed down towards the hill, it’s seen the speed reduction [from the earlier crash] and the banked up traffic and collided with the bus, forcing the bus off the left-hand side of the freeway down the cliff,” Schranz said.
He said it was “quite miraculous” that everyone was able to make it out of the wreckage.
Victoria Police Acting Superintendent Jason Templar said first responders were confronted with a “pretty horrific incident” and initial investigations suggested the bus was rear-ended by the truck.
He also said first responders were “really impressed” by students and staff who removed themselves from the bus.
“Early indications from the investigation are that they were all wearing seatbelts, which has probably saved having any fatalities from the bus, which is fantastic,” Templar said.
The school principal confirmed students had been heading to the airport to fly to the US to explore NASA facilities after the trip had already been delayed due to COVID-19.
A family member of one of the students told Sydney radio 2GB the girls were on their way to “a trip of a lifetime”.
The grandmother said her daughter phoned her to say her granddaughter was alright.
Premier Daniel Andrews said in parliament on Wednesday he had provided the school’s principal with a single, senior point of contact so she did not need to “navigate her way through the government”.
“We send our best wishes, our thoughts and our prayers to each and every parent, each and every student, staff members and, of course, their families. This will be an incredibly challenging time for them,” Andrews said.
Templar said an investigation at the crash site was still underway and the Western Highway would likely continue to be closed between Ballan and Bacchus Marsh until early Thursday morning.
Road crews from the Bacchus Marsh and Melton State Emergency Services were called to the scene, along with the Country Fire Authority to assist with the rescue.
“Our crews worked with other emergency services on scene to remove the remaining five students trapped inside the bus and triage the large number of patients and extricate them up a steep embankment,” the SES said.
The truck driver, who is yet to speak with police as he is receiving treatment in hospital, was also trapped.
Wendouree MP Juliana Addison, a former Loreto student with a daughter at the school, said the bus crash was a “shocking event”.
“The Ballarat community will put our arms around our Loreto girls, teachers and their families and support them in all they need,” she said.
Ambulance Victoria said paramedics took 33 people to six different hospitals including the Royal Children’s Hospital, the Alfred Hospital, Sunshine Hospital, the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Ballarat Base Hospital.
Grampians Health chief executive Dale Fraser said the health service had issued a code brown at 7am to deal with an influx of patients. It ended at 2pm. Code brown helps create capacity to maintain emergency services.
The hospital said that as of 3pm on Wednesday, 13 of the 16 patients taken to the facility had been discharged, while three had been admitted and remained in a stable condition.
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