YUCAIPA, Calif. — A tour bus carrying dozens of men, women and children from Tijuana, Mexico, crashed in the mountains of Southern California after spending Sunday at a winter recreation area, killing at least eight and as many as 10 people, authorities said.
California Highway Patrol spokesman Mario Lopez said Monday morning that the number of eight confirmed deaths was expected to rise because the coroner was just starting to remove bodies from the mangled vehicles and also take away the remains of those who were ejected, which were covered by yellow blankets.
More than three dozen people were injured. At least 17 were still hospitalized Monday morning, including at least five in critical condition, one of them a girl.
The accident occurred around 6:30 p.m. Sunday about 80 miles east of Los Angeles. It left State Route 38 littered with debris and the bus sideways across the two lanes with its windows blown out, front end crushed and part of the roof peeled back like a tin can. The bus is perched somewhat precariously at the edge of an embankment.
“It’s really a mess up there with body parts,” said California Department of Transportation spokeswoman Michelle Profant.
The speeding bus rear-ended a Saturn sedan on the mountain road, flipped and then hit a Ford pickup, Lopez said. One person in the truck was injured. The fate of the passengers in the car was not clear, but at least two people were in it, Lopez said.
Investigators will determine if mechanical failure or driver error was to blame, Lopez said. The bus driver, who survived but was injured, told investigators the vehicle had brake problems, he said.
“It appears speed was a factor in this collision,” Lopez said.
Lettering on the 1996 model bus indicated that it was operated by Scapadas Magicas LLC based in National City, Calif. Federal transportation records show that the company is licensed to carry passengers for interstate travel and that it had no crashes in the past two years. A call to the company was not immediately returned.
Jordi Garcia, a manager for InterBus Tours, said his company ran Sunday’s trip. He told U-T San Diego that 38 people departed Tijuana at 5 a.m. for a day of skiing at Big Bear.
“The information that we have is that the bus’ brakes failed and the accident occurred,” he said.
Investigators had not yet obtained the passenger list from inside the bus, Lopez said.
It took nearly two hours to clear all the people who could be transported to hospitals and go through the wreckage, said Kathleen Opliger, incident commander and San Bernardino County fire battalion chief.
Aside from those transferred, “we are 100 percent confirmed we won’t find a survivor,” she said.
Route 38 runs through the San Bernardino National Forest and leads to Big Bear. The accident occurred as the bus was headed south and leaving the forest.
“It happened so fast I don’t know how it all happened,” a passenger who declined to give her name told the San Bernardino Sun. “This was supposed to be a good day out with my companions and then this happened.”
Patients were taken to several area hospitals with injuries ranging from minor to life-threatening.
Jennifer Resch-Silvestri, a spokeswoman for Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Bernadino County, said the hospitals began working together before dawn to try to better track victims, an effort to make it easier for family members to find out the conditions and locations of their relatives.
Seven of the nine people taken to Kaiser Permanente were discharged and two were admitted, she said. Arrowhead Regional Medical Center had two women in critical condition and two other patients in stable condition. Redlands Community Hospital had one patient in critical condition and five other patients with injuries ranging from cuts to broken bones. Loma Linda Medical Center had a man and a girl under age 18 in critical condition, a man in serious condition, and a woman and a girl under 18 in fair condition.
The National Transportation Safety Board said Monday it was sending a team to the scene.
The California crash comes less than a day after a bus carrying 42 high school students and their chaperones slammed into an overpass in Boston. Massachusetts state police said 35 people were injured and that the driver had directed the bus onto a road with a height limit.