9 die in tour bus crash near Pendleton

PENDLETON, Ore. — Nine people died when a Canadian tour bus crashed through a guardrail on icy Interstate 84 near the top of Cabbage Hill east of Pendleton, Ore., on Sunday morning.

The bus, with an estimated 40 people on board, slid more than 100 feet down a steep embankment, coming to rest upright in a ravine.

At least 26 people on the bus, including adults and children, were injured.

Rescue workers used ropes to help bring bus passengers up the hillside from the wreckage to the roadway.

The charter bus had been returning to Vancouver, British Columbia, from Las Vegas when it crashed about 10:30 a.m., according to the Oregon State Police.

The bus, which had been touring the western United States, was operated by Mi Joo Tour & Travel of Vancouver.

The names of those who died were not released Sunday. Because most of the passengers were believed to be visitors to the United States, notifying their relatives could not be done immediately, according to the state police.

The bus driver survived the crash, but officers were not able to speak to the driver Sunday because of the severity of the driver’s injuries, according to the state police.

Most of the injured were taken to St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton. The hospital confirmed it treated 26 patients, including five who later were sent to other hospitals, but released no information about the severity of injuries.

Some patients went to Good Shepherd Medical Center in Hermiston, said Larry Blanc, spokesman for St. Anthony Hospital.

By 4 p.m. St. Anthony was releasing some patients, Blanc said.

The Umatilla County Office of Emergency Management with the Red Cross had set up an emergency shelter for bus passengers at the Pendleton convention center.

A couple of passengers also had been taken to La Grande, according to the Red Cross there.

Oregon State Police reported that the final victim had been removed from the wreckage by 5 p.m. However, law enforcement officials remained at the crash scene continuing the initial investigation of the crash.

St. Anthony was operating under disaster protocol Sunday and activated emergency emails and a phone tree to call in staff, the East Oregonian reported.

Three Life Flight planes were on standby at the Pendleton airport in case patients needed to be flown to other hospitals.

By 4 p.m., some air and ground ambulances on standby were released from duty, Blanc said.

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, according to The Associated Press.

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.”

Cabbage Hill, also known as Emigrant Hill, is one of the most hazardous stretches of westbound Interstate 84, in part because of winter weather there, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Over a distance of six miles the road descends 2,000 feet from the Blue Mountains at grades up to 6 percent and includes a double-hairpin turn.