BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK — At least four people are dead following a tour bus crash just outside of Bryce Canyon National Park.
Dozens more were injured, some critically, when a bus carrying Chinese tourists crashed and rolled on state Route 12 near Red Canyon about 11:15 a.m. Friday. The Utah Highway Patrol said 31 people, including the driver, were onboard.
It appears that the bus drifted off the right side of the road, according to Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Nick Street. The driver then overcorrected, causing the bus to fishtail and roll over. The bus rolled into a guard rail and landed on its wheels, Street said.
The guard rail caused significant damage to the middle of the bus. Four people were declared dead at the scene. Between 12 and 15 others were believed to have suffered “very critical injuries,” the UHP stated.
Five people were still in critical condition as of Friday night, Street said.
Intermountain Garfield Memorial Hospital received 17 patients: three in critical condition, 11 in serious condition and three in fair condition, Intermountain Healthcare spokesman Lance Madigan said on Twitter.
He also said that Life Flight had dispatched two helicopters and two airplanes to the area to help with the treatment and transportation of victims.
Garfield County Sheriff Danny Perkins said patients were also transported to hospitals in Richfield and Kanab, and may have been flown to additional facilities from there.
“My heart sank when I heard the news that a tour bus crashed near Bryce Canyon. I grieve with all who lost loved ones in this crash and I’m grateful for the quick work of first responders, as well as all those who are volunteering to act as translators,” Gov. Gary Herbert tweeted Friday afternoon.
Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock said the crash has affected everyone in the area.
“This is pretty overwhelming for a little county of 4,900 people,” he said. “This is just horrible for us, and we feel terrible for those who are injured and their families.”
The Chinese Embassy of the U.S. tweeted about the crash Friday afternoon, writing: “We are saddened to hear about the accident in Utah involving a bus carrying Chinese tourists. We are thankful to authorities in Utah for their assistance.”
The embassy had initiated emergency protocols, sent personnel to the area, and was ready to assist the victims as needed, the tweet said.
We are saddened to hear about the accident in Utah involving a bus carrying Chinese tourists. We are thankful to authorities in Utah for their assistance. The Embassy has initiated its emergency protocols, sent personnel to the area, and will assist the victims as needed. https://t.co/ad4oXrrHPd— Chinese Embassy in US (@ChineseEmbinUS) September 20, 2019
Perkins called the first responders — who are all volunteers — the “unsung heroes” of the day. He said because of those responders, lives were saved. He also said with the number of tour buses that go through the county every day, local emergency crews had talked specifically about what to do in the event of a crash.
“This very thing has been a big worry for us. I guess you’re never prepared for something like this totally, but we were kind of mentally prepared. But I’m telling you, people came together today and did a great job,” Perkins said.
At least one firefighter who responded spoke Chinese, he said. At nearby Ruby’s Inn, several workers were also able to go to the scene and assist with translation. Later in the day, Southern Utah University sent members of its Confucius Institute to help as well.
What caused the crash was not immediately known. There were no reports of other vehicles involved, and weather was not believed to be a factor. The speed of the bus was not known as of Friday night, Street said.
Investigators don’t currently suspect that impairment was a factor, Street said, and the driver of the bus is alive and talking to investigators.
“It could be something as simple as taking his eyes off the road for a minute and the bus drifting off the road,” Street said.
State Route 12 was closed as multiple police and rescue agencies responded, but had reopened by 8 p.m. Late Friday afternoon, the National Transportation Safety Board announced it would be sending a team to Utah to investigate the crash.
Contributing: Sam Penrod, Gretel Kauffman
Correction: A photo caption on an earlier version said the crash occurred Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. The crash happened on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019.