By Steve Gorman
(Reuters) – A bus carrying Chinese-speaking tourists careened off a road and crashed near Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah on Friday, killing at least four people and critically injuring at least another 12, authorities reported.
The cause of the crash, which occurred at about 11:30 a.m. on State Route 12 just west of the park, was under investigation, but weather did not appear to be a factor, state Highway Patrol and Garfield County Sheriff’s Department officials said.
A total of 30 people, including the driver, were aboard the bus when it ran off the road, rolled into a guard rail and flipped onto its side, sheriff’s spokeswoman Denise Dastrup told Reuters by telephone. All 26 people aboard who survived were injured, and were taken to various hospitals with injuries ranging from minor to life-threatening, she said.
The Highway Patrol said that 12 to 15 people on the bus were critically injured. Seven victims were initially listed as critical, and four of them were evacuated to hospitals by helicopter, Dastrup said.
She said the passengers were all Mandarin Chinese speakers, and that county officials put out a call for Mandarin speakers to go one of the local hospitals to assist in translation. The victims’ nationalities had not been immediately determined, officials said.
“This is pretty overwhelming for a little county of 4,900 people,” Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock told KSL-TV, a local NBC affiliate station. “This is just horrible for us, and we feel terrible for those who are injured and their families.”
Highway Patrol Corporal Chris Bishop said that based on the number of critically injured victims, it was possible the death toll would rise.
The stretch of highway where the crash occurred was shut in both directions as authorities began investigating the cause of the accident, and it likely will remain closed “for some time,” Bishop said.
At the time of the crash, Dastrup said, the bus was headed toward Bryce Canyon, located about 270 miles (435 km) south of Salt Lake City, and skies were clear.
The national park, occupying 55 square miles (14,245 hectares) of southern Utah, is best known for its giant, spired, multi-hued rock formations, or hoodoos, and attracts some 2 million visitors a year.
(Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; editing by Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler)