LITCHFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- A packed double-decker Megabus blew a tire and slammed into an Illinois interstate bridge support pillar Thursday, hurtling screaming passengers from their seats and leaving at least one person dead and more than two dozen injured, officials said.
Illinois State Police Trooper Doug Francis confirmed one person died in the afternoon wreck of the discount charter bus, which was traveling between Chicago and Kansas City. He didn't immediately have other details about the death.
At least four people were flown by helicopter to a trauma center. Hospitals treated more than 20 other patients from the crash, which left the bus sitting with its crumpled front end smashed up against the bridge support. Rescue crews climbed ladders to reach those trapped inside, while others tended to injuries along the side of Interstate 55.
"There was a lot of screaming and crying," said 16-year-old passenger Baysha Collins, of Minneapolis, who was traveling to St. Louis to visit relatives. "There was blood everywhere. I was just in shock."
Megabus spokeswoman Amanda Byers said the bus was at full capacity, carrying 81 passengers, when it crashed near Litchfield, about 55 miles northeast of St. Louis. It left from Chicago and was to stop in St. Louis and Columbia, Mo., before arriving in Kansas City.
Memorial Medical Center spokesman Michael Leathers said its trauma center in Springfield, Ill., treated six patients, including four who were airlifted. He said he didn't know their conditions.
Brian Reardon, a spokesman for St. Francis Hospital in Litchfield, said that hospital treated more than 20 patients, including some who were treated and released. Reardon said others had moderate injuries, "such as bone fractures." He said two other nearby hospitals also are treating patients.
About 36 passengers were taken on school buses from the crash site to the community center in Litchfield, said Janis Johns, transportation director of Litchfield Community Unit School District 12. The passengers were either uninjured or mildly injured and included some children, Johns said.
Collins, who was among those at the community center, was on the upper deck of the Megabus resting when, "all of a sudden, I heard a big boom. It felt like the wheel was skidding. It felt like the bus was going to tip over."
The teenager said that when the bus struck the pillar, she flipped out of her seat and landed on a stairway leading to the lower deck. Collins said she could hear people in the front of the bus moaning and crying.
By evening, many of the uninjured passengers already had been taken by bus from the community center to St. Louis. Others were picked up by relatives, including 27-year-old Megan Arns of St. Charles, Mo., a St. Louis suburb. Her parents made the 70-mile trip to get her.
Arns was on the top deck of the bus near the back talking to a woman next to her when "all of a sudden it felt like the bus ran over something really, really big." She said she could feel the bus lose control as it rolled into the median and toward the pillar.
"Absolute panic. People were screaming," said Arns, who got away with just a scrape on her head.
Arns and 22-year-old Enrique Villaroel of Chicago said passengers began helping each other almost immediately after the wreck.
"Panic at first, then total calm," Villaroel said. "Some people were carrying other people off the bus."
Villaroel said he also was on the upper level of the bus sleeping when he was awakened by screams. "I flew out of my seat and a little girl flew past me," he said, adding that the child appeared to be OK and he escaped with a few bruises.
Megabus operates double-decker buses on scheduled routes to more than 80 cities. It has served more than 19 million passengers since its launch in 2006, the company says on its website.
Four passengers were killed in September 2010 when the driver of a double-decker Megabus smashed into a low bridge outside downtown Syracuse, N.Y. The driver was acquitted earlier this year of homicide in the deaths.
Megabus said in a statement that it is working with law enforcement authorities to investigate the cause of the crash.
"Safety remains our number one priority," the statement said. "The thoughts and prayers of our entire staff go out to the passengers involved."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in statements that it was aware of the accident and would work with local authorities "to determine if there are safety implications that merit agency action," but that the agency was not investigating the crash.
Associated Press writers Carla K. Johnson, Caryn Rousseau and Sophia Tareen in Chicago contributed to this report.