Nine people are dead and 39 others were injured after a charter bus slid and crashed on an icy Oregon interstate early Sunday, according to Oregon State Police.
The Oregon Live newspaper reports the driver lost control of the charter bus on ice-covered lanes on Interstate 84 near Pendleton in northeastern Oregon, sending the bus through a guardrail and down a nearly 100-foot embankment, just before 10:30 a.m. PST.
Westbound lanes in the La Grande area were closed while police trained in rope rescue helped bring passengers up from the embankment.
Three "fixed-wing medical aircraft" were also standing by to transport the injured passengers to out-of-area hospitals, according to an Oregon State Police press release.
Local hospitals went into "disaster protocol," with St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton taking in 26 passengers, according to hospital spokesman Larry Blanc. He could not confirm the nature of the injuries, but five patients were transported to other hospitals.
In total, at least four hospitals treated patients from the crash: St. Anthony Hospital, OHSU, Walla-Walla General in Washington and Good Shepherd Health Care System in Hermiston.
The bus driver survived the crash, State Police spokesman Lt. Gregg Hastings said, but investigators are not able to speak with him due to the severity of his injuries.
The tour bus was run through Royal Tours Company, based out of Vancouver, Canada, according to the bus owner MiJoo Travel employee Ryan Choi.
The group was on the final day of a nine-day tour, Choi said, returning to Canada after stopping in Las Vegas.
The bus crash was the second fatal crash on I-84 in northeast Oregon on Sunday morning, due to icy conditions. A 69-year-old man died in a rollover accident at about 7:30 a.m. PST near Stanfield.
Cabbage Hill, the slope near the crash, is in an area known as Deadman Pass, known for its treacherous terrain in the winter, said Captain Bill Gilliland with the Pendleton Fire Department.
The National Weather Service in Pendleton had warned of isolated snow showers and patchy freezing fog across the area in its early Sunday morning forecast.
STATE FORECAST FOR EASTERN OREGON
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE PENDLETON OR
500 AM PST SUN DEC 30 2012
MOSTLY CLOUDY IN THE MORNING WITH ISOLATED SNOW SHOWERS
CENTRAL,EAST CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST. THEN BECOMING PARTLY CLOUDY.
PATCHY FOG IN THE MORNING IN THE SOUTHEAST. PATCHY FREEZING FOG IN THE MORNING IN THE COLUMBIA BASIN.
HIGHS IN THE 20S, EXCEPT IN THE MID TEENS TO LOWER 20S IN THE MOUNTAINS.