SURVIVORS of a notorious kidnapping in which 26 kids and a bus driver dug themselves out after being buried alive have been retelling the story.
The victims were seized in Chowchilla, California in 1976 and have been speaking as one of the kidnappers, Fred Woods, was denied parole for the 17th time.
The largest mass kidnapping in US history was inspired by the 1971 Clint Eastwood film Dirty Harry and was carried out by Woods, along with brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld.
The kids were on their way back from a trip to the swimming pool on July 15, 1976 when their bus, driven by Frank Edward Ray, was blocked on the road by three armed men and a white van at 4:00pm.
They were carrying shotguns and were dressed identically with tights over their heads.
“At first we kids thought it might have been a joke carried out by some parents but it quickly turned to horror,” one of the victims, Larry Park, 49, told the Mirror.
He was just six when he was kidnapped along with his eight-year-old sister Andrea.
“One of the men had a double-barrelled, sawn-off shotgun that he pointed at us. I remember that gun being pointed at me as though it was going to eat my soul.”
As the bus drove along, some of the older kids sang songs including “If You're Happy and You Know it Clap Your Hands” to keep up spirits.
After being driven 100 miles, the hostages arrived at the quarry at around 3am and were marched at gunpoint into the trailer of a removal van, which had been buried 12ft below the ground.
The terrified youngsters were forced to climb down a ladder into the trailer, where they found filthy mattresses and containers of water.
The bus had been targeted because the kidnappers believed the youngsters were from a wealthy area and intended to demand £4million in ransom from their parents.
After the children were inside, kidnappers began shovelling dirt on top of it and placed 100lb batteries on top of it as their hostages began screaming.
“I remember it just went dark. And then you just hear the material getting thrown on us…we were being buried alive,” said survivor Michael Marshall, who was 14 at the time.
But when the kidnappers took a nap, Marshal announced he wasn't going to die without putting up a fight.
Under the instructions of Ray the group stacked the mattresses inside the truck on top of one another.
They then used wooden slats to dislodge a steel plate on the roof of the van that was covering the hatch through which they had entered.
To fight heat and exhaustion they, they poured water over their heads and kept pushing until they were able to knock the batteries off of the top of the hatch and escape out.
“It looked like a billion shooting stars going towards the sun,” said Larry.
“At that moment, I knew we were going to be OK. I looked at Andrea and she looked at me with tears of relief in her eyes.”
After being underground, Ray and the kids finally found themselves back above ground and were able to raise the alarm at the quarry guard station.
Woods was arrested weeks later after fleeing to Vancouver, British Columbia while Schoenfeld brothers surrendered to authorities in California after several days in hiding.
All three men received life sentences after pleading guilty to kidnapping charges but Richard Schoenfeld expressed remorse for the crime.
Richard and James Schoenfeld, were paroled in 2012 and 2015 respectively, but Woods, now 67, remains behind bars.
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