SHIMIZU, HOKKAIDO – Dozens of tourists were injured Friday when their sightseeing bus veered off a road and tipped over, falling several meters before landing in a field in Shimizu, Hokkaido, local firefighters said.
Police sources said 48 of the 49 people aboard were taken to hospitals after the crash, which took place at around 3:45 p.m. on National Route 274. At least 39 people were hurt, with three people in their 40s suffering serious injuries, the sources said.
The bus was traveling from Kitahiroshima, Hokkaido, to a hotel near Lake Akan in Kushiro as part of a four-day package tour.
The driver, Yasushi Ando, 58, said he wasn’t watching the road, according to the police. “I was absented-minded and was looking away” at the time, Ando was quoted as saying by the local police.
Ando has 20 years’ experience as a driver. After taking a four-day break through Monday, Ando worked the same tour between Tuesday and Thursday.
The accident happened on a straight, slow ascent near the Tokachi-Shimizu Interchange for the Doto Expressway. The road has one lane on each side.
The bus, carrying 46 tourists from the Kanto region and three staff, was run by Abashiri Kanko Kotsu, based in Ozora, Hokkaido. The passengers included elderly people and children, according to Abashiri Kanko and tour agency Hankyu Travel International Co., based in Osaka.
A tour guide who was on board said it was not speeding at the time of the crash. “I know the vehicle drove over the curb, but I’m not sure” about the cause of the accident, she said.
Another passenger told NHK on Friday that he felt a “strong shock” and that the bus never slowed. “The bus was traveling along a straight road when it fell off the left side,” the 50-year-old man from Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, was quoted as saying. “My wife and I were looking forward to the Hokkaido tour, so it was very disappointing.”
On July 30, another bus run by the same company but a different driver ran off a road in Kushiro, injuring six people.