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Originally published December 31, 2012 at 9:51 PM | Page modified January 1, 2013 at 9:32 AM

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Crashed Oregon tour bus included area residents

Several Seattle-area residents were aboard the tour bus that crashed in Oregon on Sunday killing nine people and injuring dozens.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Several Seattle-area residents were among the passengers on a tour bus that careened off an Oregon highway Sunday morning, killing nine people and sending 39 to hospitals.

The bus was one of two on the final leg of a tour that included Vancouver, B.C.; Seattle; San Francisco; Los Angeles; the Grand Canyon; and Las Vegas, said Dan Uhm, of Seattle's Green Lake neighborhood, whose mother survived the crash.

The bus carrying 49 passengers — most of them Korean, according to Oregon State Police — slid off an icy Interstate 84, east of Pendleton just after 10 a.m. Sunday.

The bus slammed into the concrete barrier, veered across the opposite lanes, then shot through the guardrail down a snowy embankment, ejecting many passengers as it slid 200 feet before coming to rest

First responders had trouble reaching victims and survivors when they arrived, said Gary Woodson, the chief of the Pendleton, Ore., Fire and Ambulance Department. He described crews using rappelling lines and ATVs to reach people, extricate and disentangle them from the bus, then transport them up the snow-covered embankment.

Investigations into the crash, including whether charges will be filed, could take four weeks or more, said Oregon State Police Lt. Gregg Hastings.

Uhm said his mother, Eun Sook Uhm, 74, booked the sightseeing trip with four of her friends. Many on the tour were Korean exchange students based in Vancouver, B.C., he said. A list of the passengers showed many teens and one 7-year-old girl, among the survivors.

Uhm said his mother and her friends were passengers in the tour's other bus until Sunday, when the driver persuaded them to take a turn in his bus.

Eun Sook Uhm, of Lynnwood, was in the front when the bus slid off the freeway. She was pinned in the twisted metal for nearly three hours and was the last person to be rescued from the bus, according to her son.

"She was begging for help because, as a retired nurse, she knew that she had severe injuries," he said. "Also, being a nurse, she knew the most important thing was not to lose consciousness. All she did was pray."

One of his mother's friends was in the back of the bus, napping, when the crash occurred and was able to escape through a broken window, climb up the embankment and call 911, he said.

Dan Uhm learned about the crash Sunday morning, when his father called him on his cellphone as he was leaving church.

A third friend his mother has known for more than 20 years, a Lynnwood woman, was still unaccounted for. Oregon State Police said they had not been able to identify all the passengers.

No list of the dead was released on Monday. Hastings said he thought at least a partial list would be released Tuesday.

Other injured victims from the Puget Sound region included Choon-Sook Yang, 67, of Issaquah, and Man Sun Kim, 71, of Seattle, according to Oregon State Police. A 53-year-old woman was taken to Harborview Medical Center, but her name was not released Monday.

Uhm said investigators told him at least two drivers on the icy seven-mile descent known as Deadman Pass had called before the crash Sunday to report the bus driving too fast and cutting off other vehicles. A driver behind the bus witnessed the crash while reporting the bus for reckless driving to police, Uhm said he was told.

Hastings said he could not confirm those reports. If calls were made before the crash, the state police will not release details about them until the investigation of the crash is complete in about a month, he said.

One survivor, 25-year-old Yoo Byung Woo, told The Oregonian he and other passengers thought the bus driver wasn't driving as slowly as he should for the conditions.

"I felt like he was going too fast," Yoo said. "I worried about the bus."

Yoo, who told the newspaper he was a student at Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon, said it was snowing and foggy as the bus traveled west. One of the riders, who was frightened, asked if they could take another route, Yoo told the newspaper. Some passengers were dozing when the driver slammed on the brakes.

At a news conference Monday, Hastings said investigators don't know how fast the bus was going, but there were icy spots on Interstate 84 through the Blue Mountains.

Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Tom Strandberg said a sanding truck had been there a few hours earlier and was behind the bus making another run when the crash occurred. The truck's driver was among the first at the scene.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the 1998-model bus rolled at least once.

Fourteen of the injured were at St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton on Monday morning, one in serious condition, said spokesman Larry Blanc.

Sixteen people were sent to other hospitals in the region, including the Oregon Health & Science University hospital in Portland, he said.

The bus is owned by Mi Joo Tour & Travel in Vancouver, B.C., according to Umatilla County Emergency Manager Jack Remillard.

A bus-safety website run by the U.S. Department of Transportation said Mi Joo has six buses, none of which have been involved in any accidents in at least the past two years.

Uhm said his mother arranged her trip through a Seattle-area travel agency.

The bus driver, Haeng Kyu Hwang, 54, of Vancouver, B.C., was among the survivors. He has spoken to investigators, Hastings said.

Another passenger, who declined to give his name, told The Associated Press he was asleep when the bus went out of control.

"Suddenly people were screaming and the bus (went) down the hill," said the 22-year-old passenger. "I woke up. I feel I'm dying. I grab the seat. Finally the bus stopped."

The man, who lives in Seoul, said he's been studying English at a Vancouver university since November. Five friends on the nine-day tour also survived.

A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Administration, Peter Knudson, said seat belts aren't required on such buses. "We have been concerned about this for some time," Knudson said.

Jake Contor, a Pendleton resident who speaks Korean and helped translate for the Red Cross, said he's spoken with several crash survivors.

"The stories have been fairly consistent: braking, swerving, sliding on the ice, hitting the guardrail, then sliding down the embankment," Contor said.

He said the victims told him that the bus left Boise on Sunday morning and was supposed to arrive in Vancouver that night. Survivors who spoke to Contor were seated at the back of the bus and said it appeared that the front and center of the coach sustained the most damage.

County Commissioner Dennis Doherty said his heart goes out to the families.

"The anguish people must be feeling," he said. "Just imagine how you'd feel if you were in Korea and you got a call, there was this huge accident."

I-84 is a major east-west highway through Oregon that follows the Columbia River Gorge.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report. Seattle Times staff reporters Jennifer Sullivan and Alexa Vaughn contributed. Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com.

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