9 Killed, 36 Injured when Tour Bus Crashes Down Embankment in Icy Conditions
Oregon, About half of the at least 36 people injured in a tour bus crash that killed 9 others were still hospitalized Sunday evening, hours after the vehicle careened down a steep, snow-covered embankment near Pendleton on Interstate 84.
Two Korean teenage boys from Vancouver, British Columbia, were among the passengers released Sunday night to a makeshift shelter at the Convention Center in Pendleton.
One, age 17 with a broken collarbone, carried his arm in a sling; the other, 16, was largely unscathed, clad in a hoodie.
"I thought I was going to die," the 17-year-old said through a translator.
Both boys, who moved to Vancouver from Korea two years ago, declined to give their names.
Emergency responders described a precarious scene at the crash site Sunday morning, with rescuers using high-angle techniques and an all-terrain vehicle to carefully maneuver injured passengers and bodies up Cabbage Hill along Deadman Pass.
"Organized chaos' is how I would describe it," said Pendleton Fire Chief Gary Woodson, who was on scene just minutes after the accident.
The number of fatalities and injuries rose as emergency crews worked through the afternoon to extricate bus passengers. Thirteen local agencies sent emergency units to the scene.
Preliminary reports from Oregon State Police cited icy conditions as a contributing factor, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle and send the bus skidding off the road, through a guardrail and down the nearly 100-foot embankment.
The agency was more cautious late Sunday, saying the cause of the accident was still under investigation.
The bus driver survived the accident but was unable to give information about the crash Sunday because of the severity of his or her injuries, said police, who declined to reveal the driver's gender.
Local hospitals went into "emergency protocol," with St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton taking in 26 passengers, according to hospital spokesman Larry Blanc.
He could not confirm the nature of the injuries, but five patients were transported to other hospitals.
The hospital brought in additional staff to handle the rush of patients and did a lot of X-ray imaging, Blanc said.
An Oregon Health & Science University spokeswoman said 4 patients from the crash had been transported there by Sunday night.
Walla-Walla General in Washington and Good Shepherd Health Care System in Hermiston also treated patients from the crash.
The Umatilla County Office of Emergency Management set up the secondary shelter Sunday night for passengers who were not hospitalized. Red Cross officials were called in to assist. As of 8 p.m. Sunday, only the two boys had shown up.
Few details were known about the tour group, with most passengers hospitalized.
The bus is owned by Mi Joo Tour & Travel in Vancouver, B.C. An employee at Mi Joo Tour & Travel, Ryan Choi, said the company rents out its tour buses to travel companies.
The group was on the final day of a nine-day tour, Choi said, returning to Canada after stopping in Las Vegas.
According to the 17-year-old boy at the Convention Center, many of the passengers were Korean, Japanese or Taiwanese.
He did not elaborate on the purpose of the tour. The boy said those in the back of the bus fared better than those toward the front.
The bus rolled over about 3 times, he said, before crashing into a rocky basin.
The rocks smashed through the windows, pelting passengers. Police managed to get to the bus in about 5 minutes, the boy said.
The 17-year-old boy and his friend walked up the hill from the wreckage, but many couldn't do so. Some were ejected from the bus; others had broken legs, he said.
As the two boys walked into the Convention Center on Sunday night, investigators worked to piece together precisely what had happened.