Emergency personnel respond to the scene of a multiple-fatality accident where a tour bus careened through a guardrail along an icy highway and several hundred feet down a steep embankment, authorities said, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012 about 15 miles east of Pendleton, Ore. The charter bus carrying about 40 people lost control around 10:30 a.m. on the snow- and ice-covered lanes of Interstate 84, according to the Oregon State Police. (AP Photo/East Oregonian, Tim Trainor) ** Usable by LA and DC Only **
Nine passengers died and more than 20 were injured when a charter bus returning to Vancouver, Canada, from Las Vegas veered off an icy Oregon road Sunday and plunged down an embankment, officials said.
The bus slid off a straight stretch of Interstate 84 east of Pendleton and appeared to have rolled 85 feet down before coming to a rest at the bottom of a hill, where a foot of snow had collected, Umatilla County Emergency Manager Jack Remillard said.
"That spot up there has claimed quite a few lives over the years," Remillard said. "It's a rough stretch of road. ... It's a nice road when it's decent weather, but when it's slick, it can get treacherous."
Officials estimated that 40 passengers were aboard but had not confirmed the total. None of the names was expected to be released Sunday.
Twenty-six injured people were taken to St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton, police said, and five were later transferred to a different hospital.
The driver survived, "but investigators have not been able to speak to this person because of severity of injuries and medical care," the Oregon State Police said in a statement. Remillard said the driver was a man.
The tough terrain and snow in the area, near a place known as Immigrant Hill, hampered the rescue. Emergency workers had to form rope teams to recover survivors, officials said. Photos by the East Oregonian newspaper showed the bus resting upright with its top partially sheared off. Investigators were still at the scene Sunday evening.
The Oregon Department of Transportation cautions truck drivers that the area has "some of the most changeable and severe weather conditions in the Northwest," which can lead to slick conditions and poor visibility, the Associated Press reported.
The bus is owned by Mi Joo Tour & Travel of Vancouver, officials said. A phone number listed for the company was not accepting calls Sunday evening.
But Ryan Choi, an employee reached by the Oregonian newspaper, confirmed that the bus belonged to the company and said it had rented out its tour buses to travel companies for more than 10 years.
Larry Blanc, a spokesman for St. Anthony Hospital, didn't know the condition of the survivors but said, "We've been very busy with CAT scans, X-rays, that type of thing, and we do have surgeons on duty that have been in surgery."
Some of the survivors were moving around on their own. "I've seen some that have been standing and walking into the triage area" at the hospital, Blanc said.
The crash was the second to occur Sunday morning on Interstate 84 in northeast Oregon. State police said a 69-year-old man died when the Ford F-350 pickup he was riding in hit an icy stretch of road and rolled over.