By Tim Trainor
PENDLETON, Ore. Dec 31 Federal safety
investigators joined Oregon state police on Monday in trying to
find out what caused a tour bus to veer off a mountain highway
and plunge down a snow-covered slope, killing nine passengers
and injuring 39 others.
The charter bus was carrying nearly 50 people, about two
dozen of them holding foreign passports, 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 shortly after 10 a.m. on Sunday,
The foreign nationals included South Koreans, Japanese,
Taiwanese and Canadians along with American passengers.
The bus rolled over at least once as it careened 200 feet
down the embankment before coming to rest upright in the snow at
the bottom of a hill, according to the National Transportation
Safety Board. Oregon State Police Lieutenant Gregg Hastings said
many of the victims were ejected from the bus.
Photos of the crash scene posted by the state police showed
that part of the vehicle's roof was crushed.
"This was a very horrible, tragic crash which led to many
people's lives being lost and many people being injured,"
Hastings said. "We still want to keep that in perspective."
Authorities said they could not immediately explain what
triggered the accident, which occurred near the town of
Pendleton, about 200 miles (320 km) east of Portland. Attention
turned early on to road conditions but a full investigation was
expected to take at least four weeks to complete.
Hastings said troopers arriving on the scene found icy spots
along on the stretch of road where the bus hit a concrete
barrier along the highway's inside median, then veered across
both westbound lanes of traffic and plowed through a guard rail.
At an afternoon news conference on Monday, Hastings said
investigators had yet to determine the speed of the bus at the
time it crashed.
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 motor coach 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."
The 49 passengers on the bus ranged in age from 7 to 70,
though most of them were adults, and none of the nine killed
were believed to be children, Hastings said.
In addition to nine passengers confirmed killed, 39 people
were transported to area hospitals with injuries, authorities
said. Of those, 29 remained hospitalized on Monday, several in
Investigators had spoken to the driver, who was also
injured, Hastings said.
According to the NTSB, more than 250 people were killed and
20,000 injured in bus-related crashes in 2009, the latest year
for which data was available.
(Reporting by Tim Trainor, Teresa Carson,; Dan Whitcomb and
Steve Gorman; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by M.D. Golan and