Friday, January 9, 2015

How to Survive a Bus Crash

Yesterday, while participating in an agricultural seminar in Yuma, AZ, we were involved in our first tour bus crash. We walked away from it just fine, but more than half of the riders (23 people) ended up in the hospital with three being airlifted from Yuma to a hospital in Phoenix. Four people were still in serious condition as of today.

The bus carrying us on our tour of the farms tried to make a left turn up onto a dike. I guess the driver was so concerned about the water on the right side of the dike that he cut the corner on the left too tight, losing his rear driver side wheels over the left edge and starting the the slow rollover of the bus down a ten foot embankment.

We were seated on the left side of the bus in the dead center. When he made that left turn, I had a great view of the slow motion wreck. First I told Susan there was no way we'd make the turn and we would get stuck. That was no big deal since there were about six large tractors working the fields around us. Any one of them could have pulled that bus out of the mud.

As the driver took the turn tighter and tighter I looked at Susan and told her "we are going over, brace yourself".  At first she thought I might be kidding...until she saw the look on the face and noticed me finding some good hand and footholds to ride the way down. 

That was the most interesting part. The whole process took about five seconds. In terms of a crash, that might as well be a 100 years. As the bus began roll over, we had time to think about where we would end up (on the bottom side next to the dirt), how to brace for impact, where other passengers might fall on us, and the fact that we'd miss an excellent lunch that was scheduled for after the tour (not to mention that the vegetables that we picked to take home were rolling all over the place).

Since just about everyone on the bus was a snowbirder who regularly travels in an RV, I figured a lot of other people would have also noticed what was about to happen. Amazingly, the recognition of what was happening and the screaming didn't start until we were half way through the roll and people and bags started coming out of their spots as the right side of the bus was rising above us and those of us on the left started to roll down.

This was when something unusual happened. Somehow, all of the people and their miscellaneous bags came tumbling down from above us, but nothing landed on us. Not even a water bottle. All of the people and their stuff fell onto the people seated in front of and behind us. It was as if a force field of some kind made them all miss us as we braced ourselves to hit the ground at the base of the dike. Sometimes it's just better to be lucky than good.

When we hit the bottom, I bounced into the window I was sitting next to. The safety glass shattered but didn't break. Susan ended up standing on the sides of the seats right above me. Other than a couple of really minor cuts from the shattered glass, neither one of us was hurt. The people around us weren't so lucky. 

As we looked around, there were people trapped under other people and pieces of wreckage with arms and legs sticking out in different directions. Sometimes it was hard to tell what pieces belonged to which people. Since we were in the center of the bus, I knew we would be the last to get out. It took about 25 minutes before we were able to get everyone out. Susan and I were the last ones off. We spent our time trying to make the people around us more comfortable and then helping to unwind them from each other and various pieces of the bus. There were a lot of broken wrists, ribs, ankles and other bones, but surprisingly very little blood. Again, probably thanks to a slow motion crash.

About 12 of us on the bus weren't hurt at all. Since we were fine, we had the "luxury" to feel sorry for the driver, the Visitor Center staff, and the farming family that was giving us the tour. Too many people on the bus that will be recovering from their injuries for a long time didn't have that same luxury.

On the bright side, we became better friends with two families that farm about 8,000 acres throughout the Yuma area. We'll be getting together with them again. We're also still planning to participate in two more Yuma agricultural tours next week. After all, what are the odds of being in more than one bus accident in five days? 

It took us about 25 minutes to clear the bus. At 45 minutes, still no EMT on site. It pays to be able to be your own First Responder.

The bus rolled over onto the emergency exits. Just kick out a windshield and there's an instant emergency exit.

Finally, some EMT units start showing up.

Eventually four helicopters showed up including two Marine Corps emergency teams.

And a prettier view at the end of this day in Yuma, AZ.


  1. How fortunate that neither of you were injured. Why in the world did it take so long for any emergency vehicles to get there? Were you that far from town?

    1. We were in the farm fields a few miles south of the entrance to Mittry Lake and only about 400 yards from the main road. So now we know for sure if you're camped at Mittry and need any help, don't hold your breath waiting for an ambulance or police!

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  3. It certainly is an interesting post, but I would like to see you educe the "moral of the story."

    Isn't it extraordinary that this kind of thing doesn't happen more often with long wheel base, top heavy, oversized rigs? This accident shows how limited big rigs are in the mildest of off-highway situations, and how worthless they are for anything even remotely approaching "adventure."

    1. There are so many "morals of the story". It's more fun to just let the reader decide what their own personal takeaway should be. That turn has been made often by larger trucks than the bus we were in. So much of it was due to driver error. The reality is that I doubt any class A motorhome driver would have tried to make it down that road. Not because they are smarter than our driver was, but more because I doubt they'd want to get their $300,000+ investment muddy. I suppose "adventure" is in the eye of the beholder.

  4. John & Susan, we are happy to hear you all are OK, sad to hear of all the other injuries...
    We arrived in Yuma eaarlier this week and saw this story in the paper. We criticized the newspaper writeup for inaccuracies and lack of clarity; we found your blog description to answer all questions because of your excellent description from your perspective, I could "see" what you described, but sure I wouldn't really know how it would be unless there like you two were. Glad you two are well, hope we get to see you before the Yuma winter is over.

  5. Judy and I are happy you both are OK... .Now I know why your summer neighbors deliver the vegies . They don't want you to take the bus. ............Idaho Jim..

  6. Your blog was posted on the Boomers Facebook page this morning. Glad you were able to walk away physically unhurt. We know 8 of the people who were not so lucky: Dick/Joy Reed, Vicky/Jerry Everts, Miriam/Jim Frasinetti, and Sherrie/Jack deArmond. They are all out of the hospital and in various stages of recovery.

    1. Ironically, we probably met more people and made more friends because of that crash. We counted off the days as everyone was released from the hospitals until the last person was released. Then we had an extra special happy hour!

  7. HI guys in some of the comments I detected a note of dibelief to the length of time it took EMT, Police, Ambulance, helicopters etc to arrive on the scene. I trolled back through the post to see if there was a time frame. There wasn't. My thought is what time did the accident occur? When was the first call for assistance made? When did the first respondents arrive. How far was it to the nearest Police Station, Ambulance base, Hospital and air base? Personally I am always impressed how quickly help arrives considering the time it takes to gather crew and equipment and travel to the site. The funny thing is I am impressed by how quickly help arrives while others seeing the same accident are critical about how long it takes for help to arrive. I guess there is no pleasing some people.

  8. You can't disparage the EMT, etc. for the work they do. What people fail to realize is that in an emrgency you can suffer a lot or even die before help can arrive. Everyone should have the basic medical or self defense skills necessary to be their own first responder, because in real life the size of the disaster, your location, or the speed at which things unfold can very likely mean the wait for help is just too long. We were lucky because there were farm workers all around to help with the evacuation and one of the unharmed passengers was an emergency room nurse. Everyone was triaged before help arrived, but there was a lot of suffering by those who had broken bones and head injuries before the final injured passenger was taken out about two hours after the crash. We weren't far from town (about 10 miles), and calls for help were made almost immediately. It may have taken a while for help to arrive, but when it did there were a lot of ambulances and helicopters.

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