At least eight people died and 38 injured after a tour bus collided with a car and a pick-up truck in a horror smash Sunday night in the mountains of Southern California.
It is thought the brakes may have failed on the bus, which careered down a mountain route close to the town of Forest Falls, before colliding with a car and flipping over, then ploughing into a pick-up towing a trailer.
Emergency workers spent hours extricating people from the stricken bus – which was carrying tourists returning to Tijuana, Mexico, after a day of skiing at California’s popular Big Bear resort – following the ‘devastating’ crash on State Route 38 at 6.30pm last night.
A Highway Patrol officer at the scene, Mario Lopez, confirmed the death toll and said almost 40 people were rushed to hospital in the aftermath of the accident.
Some passengers were thrown from the bus, while others were left trapped among the wreckage. Children were among the injured.
‘It’s horrific, it is tragic, it is carnage,’ Terri Kasinga, from the California Department of Transport, said in the wake of the crash.
‘It is so bad up there it’s hard to understand what really happened,’ she told ABC Local Los Angeles.
The bus driver reported having brake problems as it came down the mountain on State Route 38, rear-ending a sedan then flipping over and hitting a pickup truck that was pulling a trailer, he said.
Passengers on the bus were part of a tour group from Tijuana, Mexico, and a representative from the Mexican consulate was at the crash scene.
The bus was heading down the mountain carrying passengers returning from a day of skiing and snowboarding at Big Bear, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Survivors told the network those on board heard the driver shout something about the vehicle’s brakes, then the bus began weaving in and out of traffic as it sped down the route before colliding with the sedan and flipping over.
Many were left trapped in the bus, which came to a rest lying sideways across both lanes of State Route 38 with its front end crushed.
People were still being extricated from the bus more than an hour after the crash on the mountainous stretch, which runs through the San Bernardino National Forest, and rescuers were still searching the wreckage for victims hours later.
Television footage showed the bus sitting upright but turned sideways on the road, which was littered with debris.
‘It’s really a mess up there with body parts,’ Michelle Profant, a spokeswoman for California Department of Transportation, said of the ‘shocking’ crash scene.
At least seven ambulances were called to the scene, and patients were taken to several hospitals.
Mr Lopez said more than a dozen survivors pulled from the wreckage had sustained life-threatening injuries
He told press gathered at the crash scene last night: ‘We still don’t know what caused the bus to accelerate down the 38. There’s a possibility of mechanical issues.
‘The bus rear-ended a Saturn sedan then rolled or overturned,’ he said, adding that the bus then collided with a Ford pick-up truck towing a trailer, resulting in ‘multiple fatalities’.
‘It’s a terrible crash,’ he said.
‘We are trying to get investigators in there and hopefully determine exactly what happened.’
Arrowhead Regional Medical Center said four women had been admitted from the crash and their conditions were still being determined.
Redland Community Hospital said it received one person in critical condition and one with minor injuries, while two more were en route with minor injuries.
Community Hospital of San Bernardino said it had received one patient with undetermined injuries, while St. Bernadine Medical Center said it had two patients, whose injuries were being assessed.
Lettering on the bus indicated that it was operated by Scapadas Magicas LLC, a company based in National City, California.
Federal transportation records show that the company is licensed to carry passengers for interstate travel, and that it has 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 the trip yesterday. He told U-T San Diego that the group 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.
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.