GARFIELD COUNTY, Utah, Sept. 23, 2019 (Gephardt Daily) — Officials from the hospital in Panguitch, which was the closest Intermountain Healthcare facility to a fatal tour bus crash Friday, gave an update on the current condition of patients Monday.
The bus, carrying Chinese tourists from Shanghai, crashed on State Route 12 about seven miles west of the Bryce Canyon National Park entrance gate just after 11:35 a.m.
Garfield County Sheriff Danny Perkins told reporters at the scene it appears the driver drifted to the left-hand side of the road and possibly overcorrected. The bus flipped over and rolled into a guardrail, Perkins said. The middle of the bus caught the brunt of the impact and was crushed inward.
There were 29 passengers on the bus, as well as the driver; four passengers were killed.
Three helicopters transported victims from the scene.
Intermountain Garfield Memorial Hospital administrator Alberto Vasquez, clinical operations director Rachelle Rhodes, and nurse administrator Deann Brown spoke at a press conference that was held at 2 p.m. Monday. The full press conference can be seen above.
Vasquez said at the press conference the Panguitch hospital, a 50-bed critical access facility, was the closest Intermountain Healthcare hospital to the incident. A total of 19 patients were seen by Garfield Memorial the day of the crash, but only one was admitted to that hospital. That patient has since been discharged. Eleven patients were transported to other facilities, and seven were discharged. The other patients involved in the crash were transported directly from the scene itself to other area hospitals
As of Monday afternoon, a total of 12 patients from the crash are still in Intermountain hospitals. Officials are not providing a breakdown of which specific facilities they are in. Three are in critical condition, one is in serious condition and eight are in fair condition.
Vasquez said the incident was the most serious the hospital has dealt with.
“There have been other incidents, but not as large, not as serious,” he said. “We had about 90 Garfield staff, that we called in, and each department just texted their staff to come in, and they responded within minutes, and were ready to go.”
Rhodes said the most critical patients came into the trauma bay and there was a team that would surround each patient, and assessments were done to establish what life-saving measures might be needed immediately. Intermountain Life Flight services were then used to transport patients to neighboring facilities if necessary. The most critical patients were transported to Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George and Utah Valley Hospital in Provo by air. Some patients were then transported by ground ambulance.
“I want to thank our staff, our Intermountain caregivers, for all the work they did, our first responders, EMTs, and law enforcement and all others that who participated as we worked to care for these individuals,” Vasquez said. “Everyone just did their job. There was no panicking; there was focus on the task at hand, we know this, we drill this, we anticipate this kind of thing, and people just focused on the patients. I’m sure inside we were screaming but outside they were calm and collected. I’m very proud to be part of this team and I can’t say enough accolades for our staff and the community.”
Vasquez said officials from the hospital will meet Wednesday to review their handling of the event and identify any areas the team feel could be handled better.
Utah Highway Patrol on Saturday identified the deceased as three women: Ling Geng, age 68; Xiuyun Chen, age 67; Zhang Caiyu, age 62; and a man, ZhongLiang Qiu, age 65.
The U.S. Chinese Embassy tweeted late Friday afternoon regarding the accident.
“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.”
The driver at the wheel when the tour bus crashed was on his first trip for the motorcar company that hired him, it was revealed Sunday.
Pete Kotowski, investigator in charge of the incident for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), gave an initial report on the case early Sunday evening.
Kotowski said 10 NTSB investigators arrived in Garfield County on Saturday and were briefed by officers from the Utah Highway Patrol.
Most remained Sunday, documenting the scene or interviewing some of the 26 surviving passengers. All passengers were natives of Shanghai, China, according to an earlier UHP report.
Two investigators left Sunday to interview company officials, with an appointment set for Monday, Kotowski said.
Investigators also intend to interview the Chinese American driver, who returned to his home, in California, Kotowski said. The driver interview was still pending as of 5 p.m. Monday. He did cooperate with UHP before leaving the state, Kotowski noted, and gave a blood sample officials will test for any evidence of impairment.
“We know it’s a carrier that has been in operation a short period of time,” Kotowski said of the bus company. “We will look at their operating authority, their inspection history and their enforcement history.”
Also reviewed will be the origin of the trip and its itinerary details, Kotowski said.
“We do know that this driver was recently hired and this was his first trip,” he said. “We are still in the process of gathering additional information about the driver, and one of the areas we will look at with the motor carrier is that company’s hiring practices.”
The driver’s background will also be investigated, as will his licensing qualifications and medical history, Kotowski said. The “crashworthiness” of the bus, a 2017 mid-sized Freightliner, also will be analyzed.
The NTSB will issue a preliminary report in a few weeks, before leaving the scene, Kotowski said.
“Our process is thorough but lengthy,” he said. “We expect to complete this investigation in about 12 to 24 months.”