Bus crash investigation could take 4 weeks, police say
Published Monday, December 31, 2012 6:37AM EST
Last Updated Monday, December 31, 2012 9:48PM EST
Police are still trying to confirm citizenship for many of the 48 people aboard Sunday’s horrific tour bus crash in Oregon. Nine people died and dozens were injured, as the Coquitlam-B.C. based bus crashed through a guardrail and plunged down a steep embankment.
Lt. Gregg Hastings of the Oregon State Police told a news conference that the majority of passengers were of Korean background and lived in British Columbia, Washington state, Oregon and even Idaho.
There’s a wide age range – from a seven-year-old girl to a 74-year-old woman, among the survivors -- although police say all those who perished at the scene of the accident were adults. The names of the deceased have not been released.
Oregon police have been working with RCMP in Canada and Korean consular officials in the U.S. to reach families and identify victims.
Among the 39 injured in the crash, a Vancouver student says he feels lucky to be alive after being ejected from the bus during the crash.
Jaemin Seo, a 23-year-old international student living in Vancouver, was thrown from the bus through a broken window.
"Some people were beside me but I thought one of them was already dead," Seo told CTV British Columbia. "I wanted to climb up to the road but I couldn't because I couldn't walk."
Seo was one of the lucky ones, surviving with a fractured leg, some scrapes and bruises, and 12 stitches on his wrist.
Another exchange student, Yoo Byung Woo, 25, told The Oregonian it was snowing and foggy on the highway. He and other passengers thought the bus driver wasn't driving as slowly as he should have been for the conditions.
"I felt like he was going too fast," Yoo said. "I worried about the bus."
Police have determined the bus was on Interstate 84 headed west in the left-hand lane, when it collided with a concrete barrier bordering the left-inside shoulder of the traffic lane.
The bus then veered across both westbound lanes, went through a guardrail and continued down an embankment for about 60 metres before it came to a rest.
Some of the passengers were ejected from the bus, while others were pinned inside the vehicle and had to await rescue.
Police say the tour bus was owned by a Vancouver-area company called Mi Joo Tour & Travel.
The bus driver, identified as 54-year-old Haeng Kyu Hwang from Vancouver, was injured but survived the crash.
Larry Blanc, a spokesperson for St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton, Ore., told CTV News that of the 29 people initially treated at the hospital, five were transported to other hospitals for further treatment and 10 have been discharged.
An additional 16 victims were taken to three nearby hospitals in communities in Washington and Oregon, Blanc said.
He said most of the patients who remain at St. Anthony’s are in stable condition, but one is in serious condition, in intensive care.
Others in the crash who did not require hospitalization are being cared for by the local Red Cross, which established a shelter.
Dr. Sandy Ramirez of the American Red Cross has been helping the victims, with assistance from a local resident, Jacob Contor, who happens to speak some Korean.
"The language barrier certainly makes it harder and I also think because they are isolated from their support community and family and friends,” Ramirez said. “They are away from home, so yes, I think that added an additional element of additional anxiety and discomfort."
Investigation could take weeks
Hastings said police will be looking into both the driver and vehicle to determine the cause of the tragic accident.
“The cause of the accident still under investigation, will take at least four weeks,” Hasting said at a Monday afternoon news conference.
They plan to interview the bus driver when he is able to speak, and conduct a mechanical investigation of the bus.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it will look into icy road conditions as a possible factor.
Also on Sunday, a 69-year-old man died in a rollover on the same highway just 48 kilometres away.
I-84 is a major east-west highway through Oregon that follows the Columbia River Gorge, known for its dangerous driving conditions.
Hastings said the area of the bus crash is called “Deadman Pass.”
Because the area is so dangerous, the state transportation department published warnings for truck drivers that said the area had “some of the most changeable and severe weather conditions in the Northwest" and can lead to slippery conditions and poor visibility.
According to records from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Mi Joo Tour & Travel Ltd. has no history of crashes. None of the six buses owned by the company have crashed in the last two years.