Frank Edward ‘Ed’ Ray, a California school bus driver who became famous for helping rescue 26 students after three kidnappers buried them underground in 1976, has died at age 91.
In the last days of his life, Ray was visited by many of the former Chowchilla schoolchildren who owe their lives to his act of bravery 35 years ago.
On July 15, 1976, Ray was driving a bus full of children between the ages five and 14 when he had stopped to see if the apparently broken-down white van needed help. That is when he saw a man wearing a nylon stocking over his head and holding guns, according to TruTV.
After a few minutes, the hijacker pulled the bus into a drainage slough and cut the motor. The white van backed up to the front door of the bus and the men, later identified as brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld, and Frederick Woods, loaded Ray and the children onto two vans.
The bus finally came to a halt at a rock quarry in Livermore owned by Woods’ father, where the 27 hostages were forced into a moving van buried underground.
The Schoenfelds and Woods, who were from wealthy families, lost $30,000 in a real estate deal and devised a plan to kidnap a bus full of children in hopes of getting $5milion ransom. Thanks to Ray, however, the scheme failed.
The driver and two older boys were able to stack mattresses and climb out of the van. They then pushed open a metal lid, which was covered with two 100-pound industrial batteries, and freed the children who had spent 16 hours trapped.
About 36 hours after the bus was hijacked, the children were retunited with their panic-stricken parents.