UPDATED: A tour bus carrying 16 Swiss retirees on holiday in the Nordic countries ran off the road and crashed into the side of a mountain on the E6 highway at Namsskogan in the county of Nord-Trøndelag on Tuesday. Three were later confirmed dead and 13 passengers were rushed to hospital, some of them suffering serious injuries.
“Witnesses who called in the accident reported that windows in the bus were shattered and that people had been thrown out of the bus,” Jan Birger Jacobsen of the Nord-Trøndelag Police District told NRK. Some of the witnesses had heartbreaking stories to tell: “He was screaming that he knew he was going to die,” said truck driver Johannes Rekonius, one of the first who arrived on the scene and found a man pinned under the bus. “I held his hand, trying to reassure him that help was on the way. He gripped tighter and tighter but suddenly let go. He died then and there.”
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the local hospital in Namsos was in crisis mode to deal with the fatal accident. “The number of injured expected was higher than the hospital is normally prepared to handle, so we rang the catastrophe alarm,” Trond Skillingstad, information chief at Sykehuset Namsos, told NRK. That means the hospital was calling in more staff to be able to treat the injured more quickly.
By 5pm, eight of the injured had been airlifted to the hospital by helicopter and five by ambulance. One of the most seriously injured was later flown on to St Olavs Hospital in Trondheim for more specialized treatment.
Paul Georg Skogen of the local public health administration Helse Nord-Trøndelag reported that the hospital in Namsos started mobilizing as soon as the first report of the accident arrived, and sufficient medical personnel were in place. “We have several operating rooms available and our intensive care capacity is good,” Skogen told NRK.
The Eurobus, from a Swiss company based in Windisch, was reportedly driving south on the E6 highway when it careened off the road and crashed into a mountainside. Police received the first emergency calls in the early afternoon and patrol cars, ambulances from Namskogan, Grong, Snåsa, Namsos and Grane, a rescue helicopter and Sea King hospital from Ørland were sent to the scene of the crash, six kilometers north of Trones in Namsskogan township.
Scrambled to save lives
The E6 highway was closed between Grong and Brekkvaselv. One witness on the scene, Elisabeth Brekkvassmo, told NRK that the bus had tipped over in the impact with a ditch and the mountainside, and that rescue personnel were scrambling to try to save lives when she arrived.
Brekkvassmo also reported skid marks on newly paved asphalt on the road. “Witnesses told me that the bus was driving in a zig-zag pattern just before the accident,” she told NRK. “It seems like the bus was already off the asphalt before it crashed.” One couple driving behind the bus suspected the driver fell asleep at the wheel. Other witnesses talked about how, after the crash, they could hear people screaming inside the bus but couldn’t get to them to help.
Switzerland’s ambassador in Oslo, Rudolf Knoblauch, told news bureau NTB that he was “amazed by how quickly emergency crews reacted, at the same time this is very sad for those involved and their loved ones.” The Swiss Embassy in Stockholm was also sending personnel to Nord-Trøndelag to assist the injured at the hospital in Namsos. “We have a list of passengers on board that we’re now working to get confirmed,” added Knoblauch, who arrived for his new ambassador posting in Norway just last last year.
NRK reported that the bus tour, billed as a “Dream Trip to the North Cape and Lofoten,” had begun in Switzerland with a drive to Travemünde in Germany. From there the bus went on a ferry to Malmö in Sweden and then to Stockholm before another ferry took the group to Helsinki. A three-day drive through Finland to Northern Norway climaxed in a visit to the North Cape before the group drove south again with a stop in scenic Lofoten on Sunday. After another ferry over the Vestfjord, the bus’ goal on Tuesday was Trondheim, until the fatal accident occurred at Trones.
Namsos township has also mobilized a crisis team to help accident victims. Survivors and family members can call a special number at the hospital in Namsos to receive help and information: (+47) 74 21 56 04.
For photos of the crash site on NRK, click here, then on the numbers under the main photo.