Fourteen people were killed after a bus taking a group of vacationers to a ski resort deviated from the route in central Japan.
Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference in Tokyo that 14 people were killed and 27 others injured in the single vehicle crash in the early hours of Friday.
Suga, the government’s main spokesperson, said the Transportation Ministry had opened an investigation into the crash and sent inspectors to the scene. The nine men and five women who died included the two bus drivers.
According to fire and disaster management officials, the bus, carrying 41 people, veered into the opposite lane near the resort town of Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture at around 2 a.m. on Friday.
The vehicle passed through a guardrail and slid about three meters up the mountainside.
TV channels showed the bus, the middle part of which appeared to be curved, resting on its side against trees.
The nature of the injuries sustained by the survivors was not immediately clear, but reports say 13 people were seriously injured.
Friday’s crash came just two days after transport authorities forced bus owner ESP to suspend the operation of one of its seven vehicles for 20 days after failing to force its drivers to take health exams.
The crash is the latest in a series of tour bus crashes in Japan that have been attributed to overworked drivers on long-distance routes. In some previous accidents, drivers fell asleep while driving.
Steps have been taken to improve driver safety after a fatal crash in 2012 that killed seven people on the way to Tokyo Disneyland, but there were several similar crashes last year, including one in which two people died and more than two dozen were injured.
The Asahi TV network quoted an anonymous survivor of Friday’s crash as saying that almost all 39 passengers were asleep when the crash happened.
Another survivor, identified only as a university student, told public broadcaster NHK that the bus swayed before going off the road. He said he got stuck in a corner of the vehicle when it came to a stop.
âI desperately tried to get out and struggled, and the next thing I remember was I was outside,â he said.
There was no snow or ice on the road surface in the area, located about 180 kilometers (110 miles) northwest of Tokyo, and no visible skidding.
Most of the passengers were ski enthusiasts in their late teens and early 20s, according to the Tokyo-based ski tour operator Keyth Tour.
The company’s package tours are popular with college students and other budget skiers and snowboarders.