Japan ski tour bus crash kills 14, injures 27

Posted at 10:53 PM, Jan 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-14 23:32:36-05

 TOKYO (AP) -- An overnight tour bus on its way to a ski resort in central Japan careened off a mountain road early Friday, killing 14 passengers and injuring 27 others.

Fire and disaster management officials said the bus veered into the opposite lane near the famous resort town of Karuizawa, in Nagano prefecture, rammed through a guardrail and slid down the mountainside a short distance before coming to a rest on its side against some trees.

The chartered bus was carrying 41 people, including two drivers who were taking turns, when it crashed. The drivers were among the dead. There was no snow or ice on the road surface in the area, about 180 kilometers (110 miles) northwest of Tokyo.

Those with injuries are being treated at nearby hospitals. Most had injuries to the head, neck and chest, doctors said.

The bus fell about three meters (10 feet) down the mountainside and landed on its side, with its front window bashed in, according to Japanese media.

Television footage showed the bus bent in the middle and on its side, leaning against several trees as police investigators examined the wreckage while dozens of Japanese reporters and camera crew looked on from a distance.

The accident is the latest in a series of highway crashes in Japan involving tour buses that experts attribute to harsh working conditions for long-distance bus drivers. In some cases, drivers had fallen asleep at the wheel.

A fatal highway tour bus crash in 2012 that killed seven on their way to Disneyland prompted some legal steps to improve driving safety, but accidents have continued. There were several last year, including one that involved two deaths and 26 injuries.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the transport ministry has set up a taskforce and dispatched officials to the crash site for investigation.

"We must thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident so that similar accidents won't be repeated," he said at a regular news conference.