Brake failure may have contributed to a deadly bus crash on a mountain road near Yucaipa. Jacob Rascon and Janet Kwak report for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013.
Eight people were killed and 38 people were injured on Sunday when a tour bus that apparently had brake problems collided with a truck and a second vehicle on a mountain road 80 miles east of Los Angeles.
Firefighters from multiple agencies responded to Highway 38 near Bryant Street in Mentone (MAP) about 6:30 p.m. The road is used to travel to and from the mountain resort of Big Bear.
Passengers told NBC4 that they were coming down the mountain from a day of skiing and snowboarding in Big Bear when the driver said something to the effect that the brakes were out.
The passengers heard noises they thought were brakes and smelled something burning and then watched in horror as the bus weaved in and out of traffic for up to three minutes, trying to avoid cars.
The bus hit a car, then flipped.
Some riders blacked out only to awaken up to 20 feet away from the bus.
They said the driver was stuck under a rock, but he survived.
CHP Officer Mario Lopez told the Associated Press that eight people were confirmed dead and 38 were injured.
Lopez said the bus driver reported having brake problems as it came down the mountain, rear-ending a sedan then flipping over and hitting a pickup truck that was pulling a trailer.
There were 39 people aboard the bus. Four other people in two other vehicles were involved in the crash.
The bus rolled at least once, said Ronald Walls, a battalion chief at the San Bernardino County Fire Department. It had significant damage to the passenger's side, he said.
Terri Kasinga of Caltrans described the crash as the worst she's seen in 23 years working for the agency.
The bus was from Tijuana headed back from Big Bear, she said. A member of the Mexican Consulate was at the scene.
It was a chaotic scene as firefighters worked to extricate people from the bus and emergency crews set up triage areas in a "mass casualty" situation, said Eric Sherwin, with the San Bernardino County Fire Department.
People were being extricated from the bus more than an hour after the crash on the two-lane highway. Rescuers were still searching the wreckage for victims hours later. Television footage showed the bus sitting upright but turned sideways on the road.
Firefighters called a network of doctors and nurses to poll hospitals on bed availability, Sherwin said.
Arrowhead Regional Medical Center said four women had been admitted from the crash and their conditions were still being determined. Redland Community Hospital said it received one person in critical condition and one with minor injuries, while two more were en route with minor injuries.
Community Hospital of San Bernardino said it had received one patient with undetermined injuries, while St. Bernadine Medical Center said it had two patients, whose injuries were being assessed.
Witnesses said a bus hit a truck and rolled down an embankment, possibly clipping other cars.
Highway 38 was closed in both directions while emergency crews worked the scene.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.