Story Highlights• Three students confirmed dead in bus crash
• Police suspect small car struck the bus causing it to veer
• 23 taken by ambulance to hospitals
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HUNTSVILLE, Alabama (CNN) -- A school bus carrying 43 students plunged some 40 feet off the side of a highway overpass Monday in Huntsville, killing at least three students, according to school, police and fire officials.
"It's not a good day in Huntsville," police spokesman Wendell Johnson told CNN.
Christina Collier, 18, and Nicole Ford, 17, who attended Lee High School in Huntsville, died, said Police Chief Rex Reynolds.
A third student, Tanesha Hill, also died, said Sue Esslinger, Director of Marketing at Huntsville Hospital.
A witness told police it appeared that a small car struck the bus, which then went over the guardrail and crashed some 40 feet below the Interstate 565 overpass at Church Street, Reynolds said. (Watch officials describe the bus crash -- 1:17 )
Police are attempting to find the driver of the car. It took authorities about an hour to transport 33 of the students and the bus driver to Huntsville Hospital, Johnson said.
Of those, 23 were taken by ambulance and the others -- who were not as seriously injured -- were treated on the scene before they were driven to the hospital in a minivan as a precaution, he said.
The emergency room became overwhelmed and had to transport some of the injured to Crestwood Medical Center, he said.
"It was a very chaotic scene and parents were just frantic," Johnson said.
Ten students did not need to be taken to a hospital.
The bus was carrying students from Lee High School to a technology center for classes, he said.
"Huntsville has never seen an accident like this involving students," Johnson said.
He noted that the bus -- like nearly all school buses -- was not equipped with seat belts or air bags.
"The students, when they were hurled over the side of I-565 ... they were just tossed around inside the school bus," he said.
Huntsville is a city of about 160,000 in northern Alabama about 100 miles north of Birmingham. It is well known for its aerospace industry.