WILLOW BEACH, Ariz. (AP) — The bus was on a routine tour of the Grand Canyon, taking tourists from the lights and glamour of Las Vegas to the beauty of the natural wonder. On such trips, passengers get a glimpse of the Hoover Dam and the northern Arizona wilderness, maybe even see a deer or two.
That was the agenda for the 50 or so passengers aboard a charter Silver State Trailways bus on Friday. But as the bus was returning from the Grand Canyon that evening, investigators said something went terribly wrong.
As the bus traveled northbound on Highway 93 and approached the Nevada state line, the driver suffered a medical episode and lost control of the bus, authorities said.
"We believe the driver experienced some sort of the medical condition and he just went off the road," the Arizona Highway Patrol said in a statement. No other vehicles were involved in the crash, which occurred on the main highway leading to the Hoover Dam.
The vehicle hit a ravine, tore up a small hill, then bounced and lurched over rough terrain for more than 700 feet before stopping, investigators said. Its front end was damaged, but the bus remained upright.
Silver State Trailways said their driver, whose name has not been released, may have suffered a heart attack.
The driver died and 48 passengers, mostly from Asia and Europe, were injured, authorities said. The six most seriously hurt were flown by helicopter to Las Vegas, where University Medical Center spokeswoman Danita Cohen said they were being treated for nonlife-threatening injuries, such as broken bones and lacerations. She described them as being mostly over 50 years old.
Fifteen others with less severe injuries were taken to area hospitals. Patrol spokesman Carrick R. Cook said 27 passengers suffered mainly bumps and bruises.
Tony Fiorini, president of Silver State Trailways, the California-based bus company that operates tours from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, said it was fortunate "no one else was seriously injured."
Fiorini declined to release the name or age of the driver and didn't say how long the driver had been with the company.
"I'm mainly concerned about my driver's family right now," he said.
It was the third time in recent years that a tour bus crash in the area claimed lives.
Two years ago, two people were killed and several injured in a crash on an area highway. In January 2009, seven people died and 10 were injured when a charter bus carrying a group of Chinese tourists on a return trip from the Grand Canyon also crashed on U.S. 93.
AP writers Bob Seavey in Phoenix and Russell Contreras in Albuquerque, N.M., contributed to this story.