Three students from Columbia University in New York were killed when their bus crashed in Honduras on Wednesday (January 13).
Victims of the accident have been identified as 20-year-old Olivia Varley Erhardt, 21-year-old Daniella Moffson and 45-year-old Abigail Flanagan, who as well as being a student, worked as a nurse practitioner at the Columbia University Medical Center.
Following a seven-day volunteer medical mission to assist poor communities in Honduras, the three women were on their way to the airport to catch a flight home when they were killed.
According to The Journal News, Flanagan’s son, Patrick Flanagan, 19, helped organize the mission through Global Brigades, an international non-profit organization which supports local communities to achieve their “economic and health goals”.
In response to the incident, Steven Atamian, Co-founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of Global Brigades, issued a statement on the organization’s website.
“We at Global Brigades are deeply saddened by today’s January 13) tragedy in Honduras…our heartfelt sympathy goes out to all those affected by this tragedy. We have contacted the U.S. Embassy in Honduras and Columbia University, and are actively working to communicate with the affected families and to provide all available support and assistance in response to this terrible accident.”
The bus was on a highway east of Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ capital, when it swerved off the road and plunged at least 260 feet into a ravine.
“A very large heart,”
According to the New York Times, spokesman from the fire services, Captain Gustavo Barahon, told local reporters that they were unsure of what caused the fatal accident, but surmised that it may have been due to a mechanical fault.
Lisa Schachter, told New York Daily News that Flanagan, a good friend of hers, “was a shining star”, and that after emigrating from Trinidad, the 45-year-old had studied to become a nurse, later achieving a doctorate degree in nursing.
“She had a very large heart. She was a very giving person, a caring person, she was a friend to many,” said Schachter.
The father of young student Danielle Moffson paid tribute to his daughter, telling the New York Daily News that she “was a beautiful girl, beautiful in and out”. He said that the last time he spoke to his daughter, she told him she was having a “fantastic time”.
Global Brigade trips are organised throughout the year to Central America to support local leaders in providing medical care to their communities, and to offer student volunteers the opportunity to work with local doctors.
Yesterday, January 14, the president of Columbia University, Lee Bollinger, issued a statement on university’s website regarding the deaths of the three students. “This terrible and tragic loss is all the greater because these individuals were dedicating their passion and very special talents to serving those in need,” he said.
Twelve others –all from the U.S. – were also injured in the crash.