Chartered Bus Plunges Down Embankment – Nine Dead; At Least 25 Others Injured
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On Sunday night January 6, 2008 an Arrow Stage Lines tour bus carrying 51 passengers drove off an embankment, killing nine people and injuring at least 25 more. All but three passengers were thrown out of the bus. The bus had been chartered to drive passengers from Telluride, Colorado for a long weekend ski trip and was returning home to Phoenix, Arizona when the accident occurred. The bus crashed 10 miles north of Mexican Hat, where Utah meets Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. See map.
The bus was driving along State Route 163, a remote road in Monument Valley known for its narrow lanes, sharp turns and lack of shoulders. Although a road sign warned of an upcoming curve, the bus driver was unable to negotiate the turn, losing control of the bus, which then fish-tailed, slammed into the guard rail and veered off the road and down an embankment.
Investigators were trying to determine why the driver, Welland Lotan, 71, of Gladwin, Michigan, who escaped with minor injuries, chose to take the winding path. Notorious for being a remote and dangerous road, especially at night, Route 163 was not a shortcut on the route from Telluride to Phoenix. It was later discovered that the most direct route through Lizard Head Pass, Colorado State Route 145, was closed due to an avalanche.
After plunging down the embankment, the bus came to rest about 40 feet below the road. The damage to the bus was extensive, with the roof of the vehicle being split open almost completely. Many of the passengers were thrown out of the bus during the crash and some were still pinned under the wreckage. There was no reception and very little visibility. Those who escaped uninjured, were able to climb onto the road and flag down motorists who had to drive more than 20 miles to find help.
The bus was one of about 17 that had been chartered for the trip. The passengers consisted of families, young people in their 20s, and children as young as five years old. Of the nine passengers who lost their lives, two were high school students in Phoenix, Arizona. Also, among those killed were 16-year-old twins and a 12-year-old girl.