PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) — A tour bus careened through a guardrail along an icy Oregon highway and several hundred feet down a steep embankment Sunday, killing nine people and injuring more than 20 others, authorities said.
The charter bus carrying about 40 people lost control around 10:30 a.m. on the snow- and ice-covered lanes of Interstate 84, according to the Oregon State Police.
The bus came to rest at the bottom of a snowy slope. More than a dozen rescue workers descended the hill and used ropes to help retrieve people from the wreckage in freezing weather. The bus driver was among the survivors, but had not yet spoken to police because of the severity of the injuries the driver had suffered.
Lt. Greg Hastings said the bus crashed along the west end of the Blue Mountains, and west of an area called Deadman Pass. Stretches of highway in the rural and agricultural area of east Oregon tend to be icy in winter months.
The bus slid down the hill and landed upright, with little or no debris visible around the crash site.
St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton treated 26 people from the accident, including some who were treated and then transported to other medical facilities, said hospital spokesman Larry Blanc.
In addition to the people who were transferred from St. Anthony to La Grand and Hermiston, Ore., and Walla Walla, Wash., Hastings said. Others were taken directly to hospitals further away, including Boise, Idaho, and Portland, Ore.
I-84 is a major east-west highway through Oregon that follows the Columbia River Gorge.
Umatilla County Emergency Manager Jack Remillard said the bus was owned by Mi Joo travel in Vancouver, B.C., and state police said the bus was en route from Las Vegas to Vancouver.
A woman who answered the phone at a listing for the company confirmed with The Associated Press that it owned the bus and said it was on a tour of the Western U.S. She declined to give her name.
A bus safety website run by the U.S. Department of Transportation said Mi Joo Tour & Travel has six buses, none of which have been involved in any accidents in at least the past two years.
The bus crash was the second fatal accident in Oregon on Sunday morning. A 69-year-old man died in a rollover accident.
A spokesman for the American Bus Association said buses carry more than 700 million passengers a year in the United States.
“The industry as a whole is a very safe industry,” said Dan Ronan of the Washington, D.C.,-based group. “There are only a handful of accidents every year. Comparatively speaking, we’re the safest form of surface transportation.”
Below is the most recent update from Oregon State Police:
UPDATED AT 5:00 p.m., 12/30/12 WITH THE FOLLOWING:
- The confirmed number of fatalities has risen from five to nine victims.
- Investigators are continuing to try and confirm the total number of passengers and number of injured persons transported to area hospital or secondary locations due to severity of injuries. St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton confirmed 18 patients were brought to their hospital with a range of injuries. Some of those patients were transported by air to secondary hospital locations due to the severity of their injuries.
- The bus driver survived the crash but investigators have not be able to speak to this person because of severity of injuries and medical care.
- The name of the charter bus company is not expected to be released today. The bus reportedly was enroute on a return trip from Las Vegas, Nevada to Vancouver, British Columbia.
- Names and other information of the bus occupants will not be released today. Deceased victims' names will only be released after confirmation of next of kin notifications, and given the fact they are believed to be out of country residents this could may take an unknown length of time.
- Investigators are still on scene conducting the initial at-scene investigation. The cause of the crash is not known.
The following is an update from Oregon State Police on today's fatal bus crash on Interstate 84 east of Pendleton:
(1:20 p.m.) Update #1 - On scene responders are confirming:
- Five (5) fatalities
- Approximately twenty (20) people have been transported to an area hospital with additional injured persons being prepared for transport
- Three (3) fixed wing medical aircraft standing by at Pendleton-area airport to transported any injured to out-of-area hospitals
- Personnel trained for rope rescues are on scene helping retrieve people from the crash scene back to the highway
- Emergency responders from multiple agencies in the Umatilla and Union county areas are on scene
- The charter bus appears to be carrying an estimated 40 people. No information regarding the charter bus company or where they were traveling from or to is being released at this time. Many details still being confirmed.
- Westbound lanes closed at La Grande area. ODOT will be coordinating info release on vehicle travel and updates can be viewed at www.TripCheck.com.
A photograph taken from the roadway showing emergency responding personnel at scene provided with this update news release. No other being released at this time.