He woke up to a nightmare — and now he's afraid to close his eyes again.
One of the survivors of the California college-tour bus crash told NBC News that he is haunted by the scenes of death and panic that unfolded around him after he was jolted awake.
"I'm afraid that when I go to sleep, I will see it again — the fire, the people screaming and all the blood," Calvin Aceves, 17, told NBC News.
Aceves was one of the lucky ones who escaped as flames devoured the charter bus and smoke choked the aisles — joining other college-bound high-schoolers in smashing windows in a desperate attempt to flee the inferno.
He had been asleep in the back third of the bus — which was carrying high school students and their chaperones to tour of Humboldt State University in Northern California — when a commotion roused him.
"I heard the screams, the brakes and then the crash," he said
A FedEx truck had crossed the divider on Interstate 5 in Orland, side-swiped a car and then slammed into the bus head-on — killing at least 10 people, including the drivers of both vehicles, three chaperones and five students.
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Aceves, on crutches as he spoke, said as soon as he awoke, he knew he had to get out of the bus.
"I turn my head a little and I see fire, just a ball of fire, just flames going up," he said. "And that's when I started banging on the window next to me.
"I was just panicking. Everyone is just shoving each other to get out of the bus."
Students fled through the kicked-out windows. One person jumped out with their clothes on fire, witnesses said.
Aceves fled in bare feet, running across the freeway with other students to get away from the burning vehicles.
"I thought it was all a dream," the Riverside, Calif., teen said.
Jonathan Gutierrez, 17, was also dozing when he heard screaming. He pitched forward during the crash, and his face smacked into the plastic tray on the seat in front of him, opening a wound above his eye.
“There was fire in the front of the bus, and people crossing the highway with injuries — it was a very surreal moment,” he told TODAY. “I couldn’t believe it myself.”
Gutierrez had kicked off his shoes before going to sleep, and was only wearing his socks when he escaped with the other students. Some of them had taken off their scorched shirts as they ran across the freeway to safety.
“They were just yelling, ‘Oh my God, what just happened?’” Gutierrez said. “They were crying.”
Emergency responders set up a triage unit, and victims were treated for burns, head lacerations and broken bones, officials said. More than 30 passengers were taken to area hospitals, at least two in critical condition.
Students clamored to call their parents.
Jayda Kosar, a senior at Palm Desert High School, borrowed someone's phone to let her mother, Teresa Jones, know what happened.
"I thought she was joking," Jones said.
Her daughter had cuts on her feet from glass, burns on her arm and ear and smoke-inhalation. She said doctors intubated her when he throat began swelling but that she was expected to be released by the weekend.
"It's a horrible, horrible thing," the mom said.
Aceves said that when he finally got in touch with his mother, he told her 10 times that he was he fine.
Physically, that's true. Emotional healing will take longer.
Outside the hospital, Aceves was emotional as he recounted the crash and his realization that some of the people he had met on the bus had not made it out — like the three chaperones and a boy who had been about to play music for them.
He said that the tragedy had made him realize that you should never wait to tell someone you love them.
"Because you never know when you will die," he said. "One can die at any second."
NBC News' Erik Ortiz and Sandra Lilley contributed to this report.
First published April 11 2014, 4:09 AM