Emergency personnel respond to the scene of a multiple fatality accident where a tour bus careened through a guardrail and several hundred feet down a steep embankment. LA GRANDE RURAL FIRE DEPARTMENT photo
Nine dead after tour bus crashes on icy Interstate 84 near Pendleton
PENDLETON — The stretch of rural Oregon interstate where a tour bus crashed through a guardrail and plummeted 100 feet down a steep embankment is so notorious that state transportation officials have published a specific advisory warning of its dangers.
Nine people were killed and more than two dozen injured when the charter bus veered out of control around 10:30 a.m. Sunday on snow- and ice-covered lanes of Interstate 84 in eastern Oregon, according to the Oregon State Police.
The bus crashed near the start of a 7-mile section of road that winds down a hill. It came to rest at the bottom of a snowy slope, landing beaten and battered but upright with little or no debris visible around the crash site.
The East Oregonian said it spoke with two South Korean passengers, ages 16 and 17. Both said through a translator that they were seated near the rear of the bus when it swerved a few times, hit the guardrail and flipped.
They described breaking glass and seeing passengers pinned by their seats as the bus slid down the hill. Both said that they feared for their lives.
The paper said that the teens, one of whom injured a knee and the other suffered a broken collarbone, were staying at a hotel arranged by the Red Cross.
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. Gregg Hastings said the bus crashed along the west end of the Blue Mountains, and west of an area called Deadman Pass. The area is well known locally for its hazards, and the state transportation department advises truck drivers that “some of the most changeable and severe weather conditions in the Northwest” can lead to slick conditions and poor visibility. Drivers are urged to use “extreme caution and defensive driving techniques,” and warned that snow and black ice are common in the fall through the spring.
A hospital official says it appears 46 people were aboard the bus.
Larry Blanc, a spokesman for St. Anthony Hospital in nearby Pendleton, said Monday that 14 of those aboard remain at St. Anthony, one in serious condition. Seven were discharged Sunday and are in the care of the Red Cross.
Blanc says 16 people were sent to other hospitals in the region, including the Oregon Health & Science University hospital in Portland.
Blanc did not elaborate on the nature of the injuries but told the Oregonian that the hospital brought in additional staff to handle the rush of patients and did a lot of X-ray imaging.
Several Union County emergency response agencies assisted with the tragedy.
Grande Ronde Hospital Community Relations Director Mardi Ford said four people from the tour bus classified as “walking wounded” were transported to the La Grande facility. Ford said one patient was treated and released, and three others were treated and then placed in the hospital’s “house convenience” program as they waited for transportation out.
“They’re here because they don’t have anyplace to go,” Ford said.
She said the three were still at the hospital Monday morning.
Other Union County agencies responding to Sunday’s disaster included the Union County Sheriff’s Office, La Grande Rural Fire Protection District, and also emergency responders from Imbler and Union.
Union County Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen said deputies and Union Search and Rescue personnel trained in ropes rescue helped with bringing people to the top of the 200-foot embankment. La Grande Rural Fire sent a rescue vehicle and six firefighters. Jim Voelz of the department said LGRFD volunteers assisted four people up the embankment and with the recovery of two bodies.
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.