40 British tourists on holiday of a lifetime injured in bus crash

RENO - It was billed as ''The Western Wonders Tour'' - the holiday of a lifetime for John and Audrey Brown of Scotland and dozens of other British tourists.

But it all came to a screeching halt in the middle of Nevada's high desert when a tour bus went off the road, zigged and zagged like ''a Walt Disney ride'' and flipped on its side, injuring all 41 on board, several seriously.

''It's a nightmare,'' John Brown, 47, told reporters Friday at Washoe Medical Center in Reno, about 200 miles north of the crash site near Tonopah, Nev.

Twenty-two people remained hospitalized Friday, including Brown's wife, 44, who was in satisfactory condition with face and shoulder injuries after being dragged along the ground as the bus slid 200 feet on its side.

The Nevada Highway Patrol blamed Thursday's crash on ''driver inattention.''

A 72-year-old woman from Derby, England, lost both her arms in the crash. She and five others who were seriously injured were the first airlifted to hospitals 200 miles away - Reno to the north and Las Vegas to the south.

''We were looking forward to the trip on to Hawaii. But I only care that we're not dead. We're alive,'' John Brown said.

British Consul-General Paul Dimond visited the Las Vegas patients Friday. Nevada Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt said the victims were comforted when they heard Dimond's British accent.

''Obviously this crash has shocked us all. We are deeply saddened,'' Dimond said.

Hospital officials said Friday three people remained in serious condition and 11 satisfactory in Reno, and two serious and six in fair condition in Las Vegas.

They had flown from London to San Francisco, where they started the bus leg of their tour, traveling to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. They were headed north again Thursday for Mammoth Lakes, Calif., when the bus went off U.S. 6, a two-lane road in remote central Nevada about 2:45 p.m.

The driver overcorrected to the left, and the bus traveled across both lanes and went off the left side of the road. The driver again overcorrected, and the bus overturned and slid for about 200 feet on its side.

''People were flopping around all over each other inside the bus. No one was ejected, but all the windows on one side were smashed open,'' Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Richard James said.

James said an investigation was continuing but no drugs or alcohol were involved and speed was not believed to be a factor either. ''We're pretty much focusing on driver error,'' he said.

John Brown, who described himself as a mining industry official from Dunsermline, Fife, Scotland making his first trip to the United States, said he and his wife were sitting in seats 41 and 42 on the right side of the back of the bus.

''The driver's side, the left hand side, was sliding on its side. The window was on the ground and passengers were being dragged physically along the side, which resulted in horrific injuries,'' Brown said.

''I never thought I was really going to be injured. At that point, it was something like in a carnival, a Walt Disney ride where you go up and down but you survive,'' he said.

''It was like traveling on a zig pattern. I realized the bus was probably going to be turning over so I held on to the front seat. My wife Audrey actually came over the top of me and landed on the window and was dragged,'' he said.

Brown said he didn't realize how serious the situation was until he saw his wife ''being dragged and couldn't see her face.''

''The noise was like most things when you drag them along the ground, you hear the noise of the crush, the pebbles on the bottom of the bus.

''The initial question is, when is it going to stop?''

When the bus stopped, Mrs. Brown, who works as an auxiliary nurse, ''was asking, 'How's my face?' I reassured her and took off my sweatshirt and put it on her face and calmed her down.''

''People were crying. Everybody was trying to console each other. We knew we had to get people out of the bus,'' he said.

Brown, who suffered only minor injuries and was released from the hospital Friday morning, said he kicked out an emergency door.

Passers-by began to stop to help and state troopers arrived within about 15 minutes, he said.

''The walking wounded helped,'' Brown said. ''We started to discipline ourselves and try to figure out how we were going to get the rest of the passengers.''

Airplanes were used to transport those hurt worst because regular medical helicopters couldn't carry enough fuel to travel to the remote crash site and back, James said.

The driver, Lotfali Rankouh, 54, of Los Angeles, suffered minor injuries.

''We spoke to the driver every morning. He was a lovely man. Very helpful,'' Brown said.

The bus was registered to California Sun Lines Inc. in Chatsworth, Calif. Reza Olandj of the firm said Rankouh ''has a perfect record.''

The tour chartered by British tour operator Archers Direct left Britain on Aug. 29 and flew to San Francisco. From there, the group traveled to Los Angeles, then Las Vegas and were expected to be in Mammoth Lakes on Thursday evening.

Next it was headed to Yosemite National Park before heading back to San Francisco for a tour of the former island prison Alcatraz before moving on to Hawaii for six days.

''Ultimately we were going to end up in San Francisco to go to 'The Rock' and then on to Hawaii for six days,'' Brown said.

''It was everything we wanted to see.''


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