Survivors recount fatal bus crash

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PENDLETON, Ore. — Survivors of the bus crash that killed nine people on a partly icy section of interstate in rural eastern Oregon said Monday that some passengers were thrown from the tour bus through broken windows as the vehicle skidded out of control, smashed through a guardrail and plummeted 100 feet down an embankment.

When the charter 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 exchange student from Suwon, South Korea.

Berlyn Sanderson, 22, of Surrey, British Columbia, said she and several other passengers were ejected.

“It’s kind of like one of those dreams you have of the world ending,” she told The Associated Press.

The bus, owned by a British Columbia company, was returning to Canada from Las Vegas, one of the stops on a nine-day western tour, when it crashed Sunday just east of Pendleton.

Aboard were 48 people, some of them exchange students from South Korea. Some passengers were from British Columbia, and some from Washington state.

Investigators said there also may have been a Japanese passenger and one from Taiwan and that they were 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 that 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, British Columbia, man who was among the injured. He has spoken with investigators, State Police 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, Lt. 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 Interstate 84 called Deadman Pass, at the top of a steep, 7-mile descent from the Blue Mountains.

That section of road is so notorious that state transportation officials have published a warning that says 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.

He said a sanding truck had applied sand a few hours earlier and was behind the bus making another run when the crash occurred. The sand-truck driver was among the first at the scene.

The highway has been shut down several times this winter, mostly because of crashed trucks blocking the roadway, Mr. Strandberg said. A decision to close the road or require chains is made by the local maintenance crew, he said.

The National Transportation Safety Board said two investigators were expected to arrive at the crash site Monday. It said they would look into why the bus left the road, the condition of the road at the time, the condition of the guardrail, the actions of the driver and operations of the company that owns the bus.

The Oregonian newspaper quoted one survivor, 25-year-old Yoo Byung Woo, as saying he and other passengers thought the bus driver was “going too fast.”

“I worried about the bus,” he said, adding that the weather was snowing and foggy. Mr. Yoo said one rider was frightened and asked whether they could take another route. He said some passengers were dozing when the driver slammed on the brakes.

Mr. Yoo said rocks smashed through windows after the bus crashed through the guardrail and rolled. The NTSB said the bus rolled at least once.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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