A tour bus carrying 48 passengers down a notorious stretch of mountain highway skidded on snow and ice, crashed through the guardrail and tumbled down the embankment — killing nine people and injuring dozens.
The horror unfolded around 10:30 a.m. local time Sunday on Interstate 84 in Eastern Oregon on Cabbage Hill near the ominously named Deadman Pass.
Here's what you should know about this tragedy.
1. It's a Notoriously Deadly Stretch of Road
Emigrant Hill, aka Cabbage Hill, where the crash occurred, is so dangerous that it has its own specific warning from state officials about the hazards of traversing that stretch of road in the Blue Mountains. It reads, in part:
This seven-mile downgrade, 35 miles west of La Grande, Oregon, has some of the most changeable and severe weather conditions in the Northwest. ... You’ll lose about 2,000 feet of elevation in six miles and twist through a double hair pin turn at a 6-percent downgrade. On an average 78 percent of the Cabbage Hill crashes involve out-of-state motor carriers!
2. The Crash Occurred Near Deadman Pass
A stretch near the crash site is ominously named Deadman Pass, as indicated on the road sign at Exit 228. According to Backroads in Oregon:
The name "Deadman Pass" was the result of an accident during the Bannock War when a teamster driving a wagon through the pass was killed by renegade Indians from the nearby Indian agency.
3. It Was a Mi Joo Tour Bus Headed from Vegas to Vancouver
Owned by Vancouver-based Mi Joo Tour and Travel, the bus was traveling from Las Vegas to Vancouver, concluding a nine-day tour reports CBS. Mi Joo's page on a U.S. DOT safety website says the company runs six buses, and none has been in an accident in the last 24 months.
4. It Was Full of Exchange Students
The bus was carrying foreign exchange students from South Korea, who are living with host families in Vancouver, B.C., and northwest Washington.
Most of the passengers were Korean. Many spoke no English, and a translator was brought in to aid the rescue effort. The AP reports local authorities are "working with the South Korean consulate to identify victims."
5. The Cause of the Crash is Undetermined
While severe whether likely played a part in the crash, the investigation is ongoing. Oregon State Patrol Lt. Gregg Hastings said:
We're not blaming road conditions. We know that there was some snow and ice on area roads, but the investigation is just beginning.
Some passengers reported the driver was going too fast.
6. The Driver Survived
The driver was not killed in the crash but suffered injuries severe enough to prevent him or her from immediately aiding police investigators.
7. It Was a Harrowing Rescue
Rescuers tending to survivors were dealing with foot-deep snow on the steep, 85-foot embankment. They used "high-angle techniques and an all-terrain vehicle," reports The Oregonian. Several responders were trained in rope rescue. Pendleton Fire Chief Gary Woodson described the scene as "organized chaos." Firefighter Steve Brost told KPTV:
I've been a firefighter for 20 years and this is the first time I've seen anything like this.
8. Survivors Gave Chilling Accounts
One survivor spoke to KPTV:
Me and my brother got out of the bus and we saw many people spread in the snow. We find some people who alive, who died.
9. Passengers Were Hurled from the Bus
Fire Lt. Steve Brost said:
It appeared that most of the patients had actually been ejected from the bus as the bus went down the cliff.
Survivor Berlyn Sanderson of Canada, 22, told the AP that "windows on the bus broke as it careened down the embankment, and she and a number of others were thrown out."
10. Four Hospitals Treated Victims
Estimates on the number of injured vary — ranging as high as 39. Survivors, aged 7 to 74, were treated at four local hospitals. Some are in critical condition.