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Teens involved in tour bus crash describe the experience


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Emergency crews responded to a tour bus rollover in southern Utah this morning. The bus carrying a group of teens from the East Coast rolled near Bryce Canyon.

When EMTs got the call of a bus crash and fire, they feared the worst. Ambulances from neighboring counties rushed to the scene, but tonight all 55 people on the bus appear to be in good condition.

There are a lot of bumps, bruises and scrapes for those who were on that tour bus, but the volunteer EMTs and the area hospital were able to treat and release almost everyone. Just a few remain in the hospital tonight, and they should be released by midnight.

Certainly it was a frightening day for the teenagers who are in the middle of a six week tour of the United States. Highway patrol troopers spent the evening going through what is left of 47 teenagers' belongings that were on the tour bus when it crashed and caught fire. Cash is burnt, credit cards are melted and a summer full of memories in their cameras may be gone.

The students were on their way to Bryce Canyon for the day, and just a few miles away in Red Canyon, they could tell something was wrong.

Brian Bergman, from Long Island, N.Y., said, "Our right wheel hit the edge, and we kind of went off the hill. We hit a sign so we definitely could not get back on the road. I guess we fell down the little hill and started rolling."

Another teen told us, "We were on the side riding it, and then all of the sudden the bus started swerving and was on its side, and it flipped over two times down the hill."

All the teens, the counselors and the bus driver, safely got off of the bus before it burst into flames. One teen told us, "We were the last ones off, and all of the sudden I hear one of our counselors yell, ‘Fire! Everybody get away from the bus!' And then we hear the fuel tanks pop, and people are yelling, everyone is thinking the bus is going to explode, so we are all just running up the road."

The highway patrol does not believe the bus was speeding. UHP trooper Chad McWilliams said, "He doesn't know why. He said he was going to give room for traffic, he really doesn't know why he was pulling to the right."

Students borrowed cell phones to let their families know they were OK, while Panguitch residents brought food and clothes to help out the victims during an unexpected detour.

Bergman said, "I think we are going to continue and get over the fear and get on a bus and start going all over the United States again."

The group is staying at a local hotel tonight, while officials with the teen tour decide how to deal with what happened. The teens say while they missed seeing Bryce Canyon today, they won't forget the hospitality they found in Panguitch.

Utah is just one stop of the 40 day tour. The group came from the Pacific Northwest and western Canada. After Bryce Canyon, they were scheduled to visit the West Coast, including Lake Tahoe and San Francisco.

Utah had another nasty tour bus wreck back in January. A ski trip to Colorado ended tragically for a group from Phoenix when their chartered bus crashed on a rural state road in southeastern Utah's San Juan County.

The bus veered off the rain-slicked state Road 163 about five miles north of Mexican Hat and rolled down a 40-foot embankment. Nine people were killed, and at least 30 others are hurt.

Both buses are operated by Arrow Stage Lines.

E-mail: spenrod@ksl.com

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Sam Penrod

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