A tour bus crashed on a highway running through the red-rock landscape of southern Utah on Friday, killing four people from China and injuring dozens more.
The bus from Southern California rolled onto a guard rail, crushing its roof and ramming the rail’s vertical posts into the cab, Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Nick Street said.
Three women and one man perished in the crash. The victims have been identified as Ling Geng, 68, Xiuyun Chen, 67, Zhang Caiyu, 62, and Zhongliang Caiyu, 65. They were all from Shanghai, China.
Five passengers remained in critical condition Friday night, and the death toll could rise, he said.
All 31 people on board were hurt. Twelve to 15 on board were considered to be in critical condition shortly after the crash, but several of them have since improved, Street said. Not everyone was wearing a seatbelt, as is common in tour buses, he said.
The crash happened near a highway rest stop a few miles from southern Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park, an otherworldly landscape of narrow red-rock spires.
Authorities believe the driver swerved on the way to the park on Friday morning. But when he yanked the steering wheel to put the bus back onto the road, the momentum sent the bus into a rollover crash, authorities said.
The driver, an American citizen, survived and was talking with investigators, Street said. He didn’t appear to be intoxicated, but authorities were still investigating his condition as well as any possible mechanical problems, he said.
There was some wind, but it was not strong enough to cause problems, Street said.
The crash left the top of a white bus smashed in and one side peeling away as the vehicle came to rest mostly off the side of the road against a sign for restrooms.
The National Transportation Safety Board was sending a team to investigate.
The company listed on the bus was America Shengjia Inc. Utah business records indicate it is based in Monterey Park, California. A woman answering the phone there did not have immediate comment.
Injured victims were sent to three hospitals. Intermountain Garfield Memorial Hospital said it received 17 patients, including three in critical condition and 11 in serious condition.
Patients also were taken to Cedar City and St. George hospitals.
Millions of people visit Utah’s five national parks every year. Last year, about 87,000 people from China visited the state, making them the fastest-growing group of Utah tourists, according to state data.
More than half of visitors from China travel on tour buses, said Vicki Varela, managing director of Utah Office of Tourism.
The Chinese Embassy tweeted that it was saddened to hear about the crash and that it was sending staff to help the victims.
Bryce Canyon, about 300 miles south of Salt Lake City, draws more than 2 million visitors a year.
“You have a group from China who have worked hard to come to the states, got the visa and everything they needed, excited about it, and for a tragedy like this to happen it just makes it all the more tragic,” Street said.