PENDLETON, Ore. – RCMP in British Columbia were asked Sunday to help notify the relatives of people on a Vancouver-bound tour bus that crashed in Oregon Sunday morning, killing nine people.
Police were asked to notify relatives in the Vancouver-area, said RCMP Sgt. Peter Thiessen.
“Oregon state police has requested our assistance in regards to that tragic crash in their jurisdiction and requested that we assist in some of the next of kin notifications that may need to be done here in the Lower Mainland or even outside the Lower Mainland,” said Thiessen in an interview.
“So as we do them, those notifications, we will be supporting those families that are affected and will be providing information back to the Oregon State Police in regards to those next of kin notifications.”
Thiessen declined to answer questions about the nationalities of the victims.
Police say the tour bus was owned by a Vancouver company called Mi Joo Tour & Travel and had been headed to Vancouver from Las Vegas with 40 people on board.
It lost control around 10:30 a.m. on snow- and ice-covered lanes of Interstate 84 in eastern Oregon. Oregon State Police said it crashed through a guardrail and plunged about 30 metres down a steep embankment.
The bus landed upright at the bottom of the snowy slope, with little or no debris visible around the crash site.
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.
St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton treated 26 people from the accident, said hospital spokesman Larry Blanc. Five of those treated at St. Anthony were transported to other facilities.
Blanc told the Oregonian the hospital brought in additional staff to handle the rush of patients and did a lot of X-ray imaging.
He told CTV News that seven of the patients admitted to St. Anthony Hospital had been discharged into the care of the Red Cross in Pendleton.
Blanc said those still at St. Anthony’s were in stabled condition, including one patient who was being treated in intensive care for serious injuries. Those most critically injured, he said, were airlifted to medical facilities in Portland, Oregon and Tri-Cities, Washington.
Lt. Greg Hastings said the bus crashed along the west end of the Blue Mountains, and west of an area called Deadman Pass. The area is so dangerous the state transportation department published specific warnings for truck drivers, advising it had “some of the most changeable and severe weather conditions in the Northwest” and can lead to slick conditions and poor visibility.
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.
I-84 is a major east-west highway through Oregon that follows the Columbia River Gorge.
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 on the same highway in Oregon on Sunday. A 69-year-old man died in a rollover accident about 30 miles west of the area where the bus crashed.
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.”
The bus crash comes more than two months after another chartered tour bus in October veered off a highway in northern Arizona, killing the driver and injuring dozens of passengers who were mostly tourists from Asia and Europe. Authorities say the driver likely had a medical episode.
With files from The Canadian Press