Survivors of a bus crash that killed nine people on a partly icy section of interstate in rural Eastern Oregon said Monday some passengers were thrown from the vehicle through broken windows after it skidded out of control, smashed through a guardrail and plummeted 200 feet down an embankment.
When the tour bus came to a rest, terrified passengers looked around for their loved ones.
“Some mothers screamed to find their son or daughter,” said Jaemin Seo, a 23-year-old student from Suwon, South Korea.
The charter bus, owned by a British Columbia company, crashed Sunday just east of Pendleton while returning to Canada from Las Vegas — one of the stops on a nine-day western tour.
Aboard were 48 people, some of them exchange students from South Korea. Some passengers were from British Columbia, and some from Washington state. Investigators say there also may have been a Japanese passenger and one from Taiwan, and they’re working with consular officials from those nations to identify them.
The survivors, who range in age from 7 to 74, were sent to 10 hospitals in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. At least 10 were released Monday, police said.
Authorities said Monday it could be a month or more before investigators and prosecutors decide whether to file any charges against the bus driver, a 54-year-old Vancouver, B.C., man who was among the injured. He has spoken with investigators, Lt. Gregg Hastings said.
The bus was traveling westbound in the left lane of Interstate 84 when it hit a concrete barrier, veered across both westbound lanes and plunged through the guardrail and down the embankment, Hastings said. Police haven’t determined how fast the bus was going when it struck the center barrier.
The crash occurred near a spot on the interstate called Deadman Pass, at the top of a steep, seven-mile descent from the Blue Mountains. That section of road is so notorious that state transportation officials published a warning for truck drivers saying it has “some of the most changeable and severe weather conditions in the Northwest.”
Still, Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Tom Strandberg said that while there were icy spots where the crash occurred, it was nothing unusual for this time of year.
Rescuers faced the challenge of bringing survivors 200 feet up a steep cliff, Pendleton Fire Chief Gary Woodson said. They descended the hill and used ropes to help retrieve people from the wreckage in freezing weather.
Officials said 39 people were taken to hospitals, and 10 of them had been treated and released.