Official: Icy bus accident under investigation

Official: Icy bus accident under investigation
A charter bus sits perpendicular across a side street and with it's front end tangling over Interstate 5 Friday, Dec. 19 2008, in Seattle.
SEATTLE - A bizarre accident that left a charter bus dangling precariously on a wall 30 feet above Interstate 5 on Friday is under investigation by three agencies, an official said.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is investigating the accident, along with the Seattle Police Department and Northwestern Trailways, which operates the buses, said Bill Brannan, vice president of Northwestern Trailways.

Beyond that, Brannan said he could not comment on the bizarre incident, which happened when two charter buses collided while nosing down an icy Seattle hill, sending both of them crashing through a metal railing above the freeway.

One bus skidded to a stop with its front end and wheels dangling 30 feet above the freeway below as the passengers screamed in terror.

All 80 of the passengers made it off the two buses, although 11 of them were taken to Harborview Medical Center to be treated for minor injuries. All had been released from the hospital by Saturday afternoon, Brannan said.

One bus hung precariously over a 30-foot wall beside Interstate 5 for hours afterward until tow trucks pulled it to safety.

The bizarre accident happened at about 12:30 p.m. Friday as the buses nosed down a hill on East Thomas Street approaching Melrose Avenue East on Capitol Hill.

According to reports from the scene, the buses headed down the residential street after learning Denny Way was closed to traffic.

Passengers on the first bus say they shouted warnings as the driver made the turn.

"I'm right by the driver and he turns on this road that's too steep, and everyone is saying, 'don't go down. That road it's too steep. There's fish-tail tracks,"' said Tamera Vasquez. "And he still goes down, straight down."

"And we are like sliding down the hill, people are like 'whoaa...' People can see it coming. Next thing we know we slammed into the guard rail," said Stephanie Jackson.

By the time the first bus stopped, its front end and front wheels were dangling suspended about 30 feet above the freeway.

"We hit it and everyone is in shock for a minute, and he (the driver) says 'go to the back of the bus.' And people threw each other out the windows," said Vasquez.

In the seconds that followed, people in the first bus got out anyway they could. And unbelievably, the bus driver tried to back off the rail in the chaos.

"When I jumped out the window, I saw that the wheels were spinning backwards as if the bus driver was trying to back up, as people were trying to jump out," said Talkeetna Setuckmarie.

And just as people began to flee, another bus came sliding down the road.

"He kind of wheeled it to the left a little bit, then the corner of the bus hit the other bus," said Zachary Blackburn.

"All I saw was the bus getting ready to hit the other side, people where just ducking down and screaming and hollering and just really scared," Nicole Maxie.

"We went over and we almost went off the edge," Blackburn said.

"Pretty thankful that we didn't fly over. I didn't think I was going to make it at first, I (thought the bus) was just going to tip. I'm pretty, pretty thankful," said Dean Short.

Shauna Freidenberger, who works near by, said she and her co-workers "heard this huge crash."

She ran outside to see what was happening and couldn't believe her eyes.

"We heard people screaming ... and so we ran down and we saw these kids trying to get out these emergency windows (of the buses)," she told KOMO News. "They were like falling out and holding on, almost tumbling out like in a huge wave."

"A foot more and it could have easily gone over," she said. "It was pretty intense and people were crying."

She said some of the passengers came out of the emergency windows head first or on their backs in their hurry to get off the dangling bus.

Friedenberger said residents of the neighborhood rushed over to help pull the passengers off the bus.

The buses reportedly were carrying students involved in the Columbia Basin Job Corps program based in Moses Lake, Wash. The passengers were on their way to the bus station for transport home.

Seattle Fire Department spokeswoman Helen Fitzpatrick says 11 young adults were taken to Harborview Medical Center with minor injuries from debris and flying glass. Another two, also with minor injuries, did not want to go to the hospital.

A third charter bus with the group did not go down the hill after witnesses at the scene ran out and warned the driver to stop, and its passengers were all safe.

Witnesses said the third bus probably would have pushed the first one over the wall if it had come down the hill and lost control, as the first two did.

The bus drivers have not been cited.