LAS VEGAS, N.M. (AP) _ A school bus driver who piloted a runaway bus down a five-mile hill after the brakes failed said he nearly wept in fear, but kept from crying because he knew he couldn't let the tears cloud his eyes.

Jesse Villasenor said the bus, carrying 45 youngsters and their chaperone, sped down Holman Hill, sometimes taking sharp turns posted at 25 mph at speeds he estimated at a minimum of 75 mph.

Villasenor said he drove on both lanes to keep the accelerating bus on the road, which a U.S. Geological Survey map shows passes atop cliffs ranging from 250 to 500 feet.

''If someone had been in the opposite lane, I could have made a pancake of him,'' he said.

The bus hit one final wide and gentle turn at the bottom, then coasted another 2 miles before slowing to a stop, he said.

''I was praying and concerned about the kids,'' he said. ''They were crying. I was almost crying, but I couldn't let tears get in my eyes.''

Chaperone Grace Ortiz said she is proud of how the students reacted. She said they listened and followed instructions ''in spite of the hysterical situation.''

Las Vegas Memorial Middle School vice principal Phillip Leger said he was following the bus in his car as it was returning from a regular Friday ski trip to Sipapu. Leger described the hill as steep and treacherous, but level in places.

''I think he should get a medal; at least a raise,'' said seventh-grader Lenny Coca.

The vice principal, whose son was aboard the runaway vehicle, said that after the bus stopped, the children - shaken but unhurt - were transferred to another bus and to Leger's car.

Leger said the bus was off the road Monday while authorities try to determine what caused the problem.