SEATTLE - Tow trucks pulled back to safety two charter buses that crashed while sliding down a slippery hill in Seattle.
Approximately 80 passengers were aboard the two buses, which crashed through a metal railing and screeched to a stop seconds before toppling onto the freeway below. One of the buses hung precariously over a 30-foot wall beside Interstate 5 for hours.
The bizarre accident happened at about 12:30 p.m. as the buses nosed down a hill on East Thomas Street approaching Melrose Avenue East on Capitol Hill.
According to reports from the scene, the buses headed down the residential street after learning Denny Way was closed to traffic.
Passengers on the first bus say they shouted warnings as the driver made the turn.
"I'm right by the driver and he turns on this road that's too steep, and everyone is saying, 'don't go down. That road it's too steep. There's fish-tail tracks,"' said Tamera Vasquez. "And he still goes down, straight down."
"And we are like sliding down the hill, people are like 'whoaa...' People can see it coming. Next thing we know we slammed into the guard rail," said Stephanie Jackson.
By the time the first bus stopped, its front end and front wheels were dangling suspended about 30 feet above the freeway.
"We hit it and everyone is in shock for a minute, and he (the driver) says 'go to the back of the bus.' And people threw each other out the windows," said Vasquez.
In the seconds that followed, people in the first bus got out anyway they could. And unbelievably, the bus deriver tried to back off the rail in the chaos.
"When I jumped out the window, I saw that the wheels were spinning backwards as if the bus driver was trying to back up, as people were trying to jump out," said Talkeetna Setuckmarie.
And just as people began to flee, another bus came sliding down the road.
"He kind of wheeled it to the left a little bit, then the corner of the bus hit the other bus," said Zachary Blackburn.
"All I saw was the bus getting ready to hit the other side, people where just ducking down and screaming and hollering and just really scared," Nicole Maxie.
"We went over and we almost went off the edge," Blackburn said.
"Pretty thankful that we didn't fly over. I didn't think I was going to make it at first, I (thought the bus) was just going to tip. I'm pretty, pretty thankful," said Dean Short.
Both buses slid across Melrose Avenue, which borders a wall above northbound I-5, and kept going through a metal barrier at the top of the wall.
Shauna Freidenberger, who works near by, said she and her co-workers "heard this huge crash."
She ran outside to see what was happening and couldn't believe her eyes.
"We heard people screaming ... and so we ran down and we saw these kids trying to get out these emergency windows (of the buses)," she told KOMO News. "They were like falling out and holding on, almost tumbling out like in a huge wave."
"A foot more and it could have easily gone over," she said. "It was pretty intense and people were crying."
She said some of the passengers came out of the emergency windows head first or on their backs in their hurry to get off the dangling bus.
Friedenberger said residents of the neighborhood rushed over to help pull the passengers off the bus.
The buses, operated by Northwestern Trailways, reportedly were carrying students involved in the Columbia Basin Job Corps program based in Moses Lake, Wash. The passengers were on their way to the bus station for transport home.
Seattle Fire Department spokeswoman Helen Fitzpatrick says 11 young adults were taken to Harborview Medical Center with minor injuries from debris and flying glass. Another two, also with minor injuries, did not want to go to the hospital.
A third charter bus with the group did not go down the hill after witnesses at the scene ran out and warned the driver to stop, and its passengers were all safe.
Witnesses said the third bus probably would have pushed the first one over the wall if it had come down the hill and lost control, as the first two did.
The bus drivers have not been cited.
Above image provided by Gummi Brynjrasson.