SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — “The Aeolians” is a world-renowned student choir from Oakwood University in Alabama. They were already set to appear at Sunday’s service and a concert later that night but on the way from the airport early Saturday morning, their bus was part of a five-vehicle collision on Hwy 101 in San Mateo County.

A few seconds after hitting the cars in front, the bus was struck from behind by an SUV, killing its driver and sending everyone on the bus flying.

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“We gotta get off…gotta get off! We smelled the smoke, smelled the fumes and as we were coming off, the bus lit on fire,” said First Tenor Chad Lupoe.

All 20 people escaped before the bus was incinerated, along with all the clothing and belongings of the choir. A group of Oakwood University alumni from Southern California saw the news reports and drove up in time to greet the choir members before Sunday’s service.

“It was unfortunate of the lives that were altered and lost, but it was just unbelievable knowing that our students had come so far to do, you know, God’s work,” said Dr. Cynthia Powell-Hicks, President of the Oakwood University Alumni Association.

“They said they had to, they wanted to…and they did. And God gave them the strength to do it,” said Oakwood alum Dr. Tina Robinson.

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“We came here with a mission,” Lupoe said, “and the fact that we were spared just deepens the mission and it shows that we were meant to be here. So why not do the thing you were meant to do?”

The Aeolians have won international competitions, singing everything from classical to gospel music. And they are said to represent the best qualities of the African American musical tradition–the tradition of a people with a history of overcoming adversity.

“The things that happen to us, you know, with the bus…everything else that we go through daily…we shall overcome,” Lupoe said. “And so the hope of that gave us the strength to make it through yesterday and the strength to make it through this weekend.”

The choir’s members are people of faith who believe their lives are guided by God. At the service, their president said surviving Saturday morning’s crash was simply evidence that there is something more they are meant to do with their lives.

“They sing with such passion and spirit…you feel their voices go through your soul,” said Rev. James Smith, Minister of Music at Third Baptist Church in San Francisco.

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In the meantime, Oakwood University is asking for donations to replace the clothing and personal effects lost in the crash. For more information, you can go to Give To The Aeolians Relief Fund.