| PORTLAND, Ore.
PORTLAND, Ore. Dec 31 Federal safety
investigators joined the Oregon state police on Monday in
seeking to determine what caused a tour bus to careen off a
mountain highway and plunge down a snow-covered slope, killing
nine passengers and injuring at least 27 others.
The charter bus was carrying about 40 people through the
Blue Mountains of northern Oregon en route from Las Vegas to
Vancouver, British Columbia, when it crashed through a guard
rail on Interstate 84 on Sunday morning, authorities said.
The motorcoach rolled over at least once on the way down the
embankment before coming to rest upright in the snow at the
bottom of a hill, according to the National Transportation
Photos of the crash scene posted by the state police showed
a portion of the vehicle's roof appeared crushed and one side of
the bus torn open.
The driver survived the wreck but had yet to be interviewed
by investigators as of Sunday night due to the severity of his
injuries, police said.
Authorities said they could not immediately explain what
triggered the accident, which occurred near the town of
Pendleton, about 200 miles east of Portland.
Attention turned early on to road conditions. The Oregon
State Police said on Sunday that a preliminary investigation
showed the bus "lost control on the snow/ice covered westbound
lanes of Interstate 84."
A spokesman for the state Transportation Department, Dave
Thompson, told Reuters on Monday that the area where the crash
occurred "is well known for treacherous conditions in winter."
Road surfaces there at the time were generally were "icy in
spots, with some areas of packed snow, and that's absolutely
typical for the area at this of the year."
Thompson said road crews had been out spreading sand in the
area and that one sand truck "was just turning around after
having passed the bus" on the highway shortly before the crash,
but he said he did not know the condition of the highway surface
where the bus veered off the interstate.
The NTSB, which has made improved motorcoach transportation
safety a top priority, said Monday it was sending a team to
investigate the accident. A spokesman for the agency in
Washington, Terry Williams said, "We'll be looking at the man,
the environment and the machine."
In addition to nine passengers confirmed dead from the
crash, more than two dozen people were injured. The NTSB put the
number of injured at 27, including the driver, but reports from
area hospital suggested the number of people hurt was higher.
St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton initially received 26
surviving patients from the crash scene, and six of them were
transported to larger hospitals in the region because they
required a "higher level of care," spokesman Larry Blanc said.
Blanc said 11 other people from the wreck were sent from
the scene to various other hospitals, but he had no information
about their conditions.
Of the 20 patients treated at St. Anthony, seven were
discharged by Monday morning, one remained in serious condition
in the hospital's intensive care unit, and the remaining 12
patients were listed in fair condition, Blanc said.
According to the NTSB, more than 250 people were killed and
20,000 injured in bus-related crashes in 2009.
(Reporting by Teresa Carson; Additional reporting and writing
by Steve Gorman; Editing by M.D. Golan)