Thirteen people were killed and 31 others injured in a serious traffic collision between a charter bus and a semi-truck in Southern California on Sunday, local authorities said.
The crash was reported to the California Highway Patrol (CHP) at 5:17 a.m. local time (1217 GMT). The tour bus smashed into the back of a semi-truck with a trailer, which was travelling at approximately five mph due to slow traffic near Palm Springs, about 160 km east of Los Angeles.
According to the CHP, the bus driver was killed, but not yet identified. The truck driver was not seriously injured.
"In almost 35 years, I've never been to a crash where there's been confirmed 13 confirmed fatals," said the CHP Border Division commander, Chief Jim Abele, at an afternoon news conference.
Photos from the scene showed the front end of the bus had been demolished. Videos showed the firefighters were using a crane to search for victims in the wreckage and ladders were placed near bus windows to pull out victims.
The severity of this crash was impacting hardened CHP officers and fire rescue workers. Rescuers needed more than an hour to search for all of the bodies in the wreckage.
Abele told local media that identifying some of the victims was difficult because they were carrying "illegitimate" identification. And he said the 1996 bus may not have a "black box" data recorder.
More than 40 adults were aboard the bus, which had been inspected as late as last April and had shown no defects, Abele said.
According to preliminary information, a spokesman for the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles told Xinhua that there was no Chinese confirmed yet in the crash.
The charter bus company is USA Holiday based in Los Angeles. Its buses typically run ply between Los Angeles and Southern California.
The crashed bus had taken gamblers on a junket to the Red Earth Casino, at Salton City, about 262 km east of Los Angeles. It was returning them to the Los Angeles area.
The CHP officials said the bus was travelling significantly faster than the tractor trailer it struck from behind.
"Anytime we have a bus hitting the back of a truck, we're going to think fatigue, or a heart attack," Abele told reporters.
Authorities shut down all westbound lanes of the nearby freeway following the crash. And the traffic was diverted onto the interchange until 3: 55 p.m. (2255 GMT). It will take time for the traffic flow to build up.
Details on the cause of the crash were still unclear.