Driver who was hero in ’76 California bus kidnapping dies

FRESNO, Calif. – Frank Edward "Ed" Ray, a school bus driver who was hailed as a hero for helping 26 California students escape after three kidnappers buried them underground in 1976, has died. He was 91.

Ray died Thursday from complications of cirrhosis of the liver, said his granddaughter, Robyn Gomes.

Ray was the only adult on board when his school bus was hijacked in the farm town of Chowchilla. The kidnappers held them inside a truck buried underground in a plan to demand $5 million ransom.

The bus driver led the children to safety after he and two older children dug their way out as the kidnappers slept. No one was hurt.

The incident made national headlines and was made into a TV movie.

Ray’s family remembers him as a simple, good person, Gomes said.

"He was a remarkable man. If you met him, you loved him, he was that kind of guy," she said. "The community will remember him as a hero, but it’s not at all how he saw himself."

Ray collected newspaper clippings about the kidnapping, Gomes said, and bought the school bus he drove in 1976 as a memento.

Ray’s funeral services will be held Tuesday at Chowchilla Cemetery.

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