A bus carrying 40 Payson High School students and seven chaperones slid off the snow-packed Beeline Highway north of Strawberry Monday while the group was returning from a three-day ski trip to Durango, Colo. The driver was able to maneuver the bus back on the road, and stopped in Strawberry to put snow chains on the vehicle.
"We watched the weather before we left," Dean Pederson, one of the chaperones, said Tuesday. "There wasn't supposed to be any snow. The sky was full of stars."
By the time the bus reached the Blue Ridge Ranger Station, he said, half the passengers were asleep and the others were watching a movie.
"That's when we started noticing snow," he said. "By the time we got to Clints Well, there was a little snow on the road. By the time we got to Strawberry, it was really coming down."
That's where the bus ran into trouble.
At about 11 p.m., as the bus headed south into Strawberry, the driver hit a patch of ice hidden under the newly fallen snow, and slid off the road just north of the community, Pederson said.
"The road conditions were definitely a lot worse than they looked," he said. "The bus driver did a really good job of keeping control of the bus. There were no injuries, and there was only a very minor bit of damage to the rear corner-panel of the bus."
Once the bus was back on the road, Pederson said, the driver "eased her into Strawberry," put on snow chains and arranged for an escort to Payson from the Gila County Sheriff's Department.