(Reuters) - A bus carrying Chinese tourists careened off a road and crashed near Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah on Friday, killing four people and injuring the remaining 26 people aboard, several of them critically, 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.
Thirty people, including the driver, were aboard the bus when it swerved across the road and back before rolling over against a guard rail and coming to rest upright, authorities said. Photos from the scene showed the vehicle’s roof crushed in on top of the passenger compartment.
The 26 survivors were taken to various hospitals with injuries ranging from minor to life-threatening, according to a Utah Highway Patrol spokesman, Corporal Chris Bishop. At least five people were critically injured, Bishop said, noting that figure was a downward revision from the Highway Patrol’s initial report that 12 to 15 people were critically injured.
Sheriff’s spokeswoman Denise Dastrup said five of the injured were evacuated to hospitals by helicopter.
All 29 passengers on the bus were citizens of mainland China, and the driver was Chinese-American, Bishop said. Dastrup said the driver survived the crash, but his condition was not immediately known.
Because nearly all the victims spoke only Mandarin, communication proved a challenge to authorities, who called for volunteers to help as translators at hospitals where the injured were taken, Dastrup said.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington said on Twitter that it was sending diplomatic personnel to the area to further assist the victims. “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 said.
A 14-mile (23 km) stretch of highway around the crash site was shut down in both directions to make way for emergency personnel and accident investigators, Bishop said.
Bryce Canyon National Park, best known for its spired, multi-hued rock formations called hoodoos, remained open to visitors, though traffic to the park was restricted. While all inbound routes to Bryce Canyon from the north, south and west pass were blocked by the crash site on SR-12, alternate routes from the west were open, park spokesman Peter Densmore 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, attracts some 2 million visitors a year.
Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; additional reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; editing by Leslie Adler