Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board were in Utah this morning at the scene of a Sunday evening bus crash that left nine people dead and multiple passengers with injuries.
NTSB public affairs officer Bridget Serchak said investigators may be interested in possible video or audio tape recorded from a device on board the Arrow Stage Lines bus. If such a tape exists, it may clue investigators in on what took place and a probable cause just prior to the crash between Mexican Hat and Blanding on U.S. 163.
"We'll be looking at all sources of electronic data, including event data recorders, GPS data and electronic engine control data," Serchak said.
The Utah Highway Patrol said Tuesday that its own investigation will be parallel to what seven NTSB investigators will be doing. Serchak said federal investigators will invite any local authorities to participate in their investigation.
The bus, driven by 71-year-old Welland Lotan of Michigan, was operating under Arrow subsidiary Corporate Transportation 'N Tours, taking passengers back to Phoenix after a ski trip to Telluride, Colo.
Calls Tuesday for comment from Arrow officials in Arizona and Nebraska about the bus driver's age and driving record were not immediately returned.
The bus crashed after missing a turn about 10 miles north of Mexican Hat at about 8:30 p.m. Sunday.
Although the bus may have been on that road because it was forced to take a detour due to bad weather conditions in Colorado, the UHP said weather conditions at the time of the crash weren't bad.
"We don't believe weather was a problem," said UHP Sgt. Cameron Roden.
Speed and overall driver error were being investigated Tuesday as possible causes of the crash. Once the investigation is completed, Roden said the UHP could turn its information over to the San Juan County Attorney's Office and let them determine whether any charges should be filed against the driver.
Danny Palmer is the owner and sole operator of the San Juan Mortuary. He knew something was going on even before he was called Sunday evening because he was monitoring police scanner traffic. When he got the call to respond to the crash scene, there were three reported deaths. By the time he got there, there were seven.
When Palmer pulled up at the crash site, there were red and blue flashing emergency lights as far as the eye could see, and floodlights shining down on the bus, which was damaged beyond recognition.
"I didn't know what I was looking at for several minutes. I couldn't tell if it was upside down. I couldn't tell front from back for several minutes till I moved down to the crash. It really looked like a 747 hit the ground right there," he said. "It was a path of destruction is the best way I can put it."
Palmer noted that, when he arrived about an hour after the crash, it was 38 degrees and there was some drizzling rain, but there was no snow or ice on the road.
After realizing the magnitude of what was happening, Palmer called a fellow mortician from Moab to also respond to the scene. Palmer took four bodies back to his mortuary, and the other man took three. The mortician in Moab ended up getting a fourth body later after a victim who was taken to a hospital died.
Despite the chaotic scene, Palmer said he also saw moments of inspiration by watching people bonding together to help those who were hurt.
"Other passengers bleeding from their own heads, arms in slings, doing things to help in any way they could ... carrying things, carrying backboards with people on them as they held bandages to their own head," he said.
Even after Palmer had completed his duties of attending to the dead, he stuck around to help carry survivors in stretchers up the hill from the crash to the main road.
The spirit of helping continued through the night as survivors were brought to local motels in Blanding. Some stores sent them free pizza and other items to help out, Palmer said.
Several survivors spent the night at the Super 8 in Blanding. A hotel clerk said everyone from the bus crash was picked up by relatives Tuesday morning.
Palmer said he spent Monday preparing death certificates and making the needed notifications.
"It was an all-day process to get identifications and positive IDs for those who didn't have IDs with them," he said.Of those who were injured and required hospitalization, one man remained in critical condition at Intermountain Medical Center. University Hospital had a woman in critical condition and a man whose condition has not been released. St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction, Colo., still had nine of the crash victims Monday. One was listed in critical condition, one in serious condition, four in fair condition and three in good condition, said spokeswoman Samantha Moe.
Contributing: Steve Fidel