NEW YORK (AP) — The two New York college students and a nurse practitioner who died in a bus crash in Honduras while volunteering in the Central American country were bighearted, dedicated and caring, people who knew them said Thursday.
Olivia Erhardt, 20, Daniella Moffson, 21, and Abigail Flanagan, 45, were pronounced dead Wednesday night after a bus taking them to the airport to fly home crashed on a highway outside Tegucigalpa, the country's capital, authorities said. A dozen more Americans were injured and are in stable condition, according to a hospital administrator.
Investigators believe a mechanical failure caused the bus to veer off a road and fall at least 260 feet (80 meters) into a ravine when it crashed, officials said.
"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," Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger wrote in an email to students Wednesday night. "No endeavor more proudly exemplifies the traditions and values of our university."
Columbia College sophomore Erhardt, Barnard College junior Moffson and Flanagan, a nurse practitioner at Columbia University Medical Center, were volunteering for the Columbia chapter of U.S.-based Global Brigades, which organizes international health and development missions. Barnard is a women-only college affiliated with Columbia University.
The volunteers brought medical supplies and took patients' vitals as they shadowed doctors and helped in a pharmacy in underserved communities.
One of Flanagan's two sons, a 19-year-old, was also volunteering with the group and was with his mother when the bus crashed but is OK, said Lisa Schachter, her longtime friend and fellow nurse practitioner.
"From a professional perspective, Abby was an expert clinician, and she was a role model to students," she said Thursday. "From a personal perspective, Abby really symbolized that true spirit of being a great friend. She was always the person to go to."
Teachers at The Ramaz School, a modern Orthodox Jewish day school on Manhattan's Upper East Side, remembered Moffson as a special student who believed in volunteerism, spending her time in high school at various hospitals' pediatric units and then serving in a home that serves abused and abandoned children during a year abroad in Israel.
"I have to tell you, of all the students I've ever taught, this kid was as wonderful a human being as you could possibly have," said Michael Lupinacci, who taught her algebra. "She really put other people before herself all the time and that's the way she lived her life."
Erhardt, of Cincinnati, Ohio, was a high-performing student who was as talented on the stage as she was on the volleyball court but never came off as boastful or brash, said Jim Renner, her principal at Mariemont High School.
"She was just a star among stars down here," he said. "But she never tried to throw her weight around. She was quiet and unassuming."
Dr. Marc Rothenberg, director of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, wrote in an email to colleagues that Erhardt was a standout student in his lab last summer.
"She was a very kind, appreciative and distinguished young lady," he told them. "Her death is very untimely and sad to me."