A family injured and stranded in the desert after their coach plunged 30ft down an embankment have spoken of their “terrifying” ordeal.
Leanne Lewis, her husband Charles, their six-year-old son and her parents Colin and Barbara Hull, still need counselling after the crash which happened when the driver fell ill at the wheel with a suspected heart attack.
Nurse Leanne, from Cardiff, frantically battled to save his life with CPR, despite her own injuries, and the family and over 40 other passengers were left stranded in a remote area near the Nevada state line in the USA with no other staff to help.
The ordeal happened when the family were travelling from an excursion to the Grand Canyon back to their hotel in Las Vegas in October last year.
Once the emergency services eventually found the stranded passengers after 45 minutes, they were taken to a local hospital for treatment. All were found to be suffering from shock, anxiety, multiple cuts and bruises. Leanne had four fractured ribs and Colin had a fractured ankle which required his leg to be placed in a cast.
The family instructed expert coach crash lawyers at Irwin Mitchell, who specialise in helping people injured abroad, to investigate whether more could have been done by excursion organiser, Silverstate, to help passengers
And Kylie Hutchison, from Irwin Mitchell, says their initial investigations have left grave concerns about the safety systems the company had in place.
She said: “This was a tragic accident that sadly resulted in the death of the coach driver but it is very fortunate that more passengers were not seriously hurt. Leanne bravely decided to try and help the driver with CPR but unfortunately nothing could be done for him.
“The driver was the only member of staff on the 15-hour round trip and was also acting as a guide providing information about the passing sites which causes us concern as it meant passengers had no one else to turn to for help as the tragedy unfolded.
“We have acted for the victims of a huge number of coach accidents in the UK and abroad and have been demanding improvements in safety standards for many years now.
“Many of our previous coach crash cases have highlighted issues including the importance of the selection of safe routes and the need to ensure that coach drivers are trained and supervised to a high standard.”
Leanne, 38, who has still not been able to return to work as a community based Nurse Assessor because of her psychological injuries, said: “The coach set off for the Grand Canyon at 6.15 that morning and when we were on our way back everyone was tired and starting to nod off. The next thing I knew the coach was speeding off road down a steep ravine and people began screaming for help.
“It was dragged along for what must have been another 700 feet and when it eventually came to a halt everyone was stunned. My ribs and neck hurt but I could see the driver was unconscious so my nursing instinct kicked in and I frantically tried to resuscitate him.
“I knew there was no hope and the realisation of what had happened began to hit me, it felt like I was having a nightmare. Someone rang for the emergency services but it took 45 minutes for them to arrive and everyone was sobbing and terrified.”
She said she knows it could have been far worse and is thankful that the injuries were not more serious.
But she said: “It’s the psychological impact the crash has had on all of us that is taking the longest time to heal. My husband and I regularly suffer flashbacks and our little boy has nightmares. We’re having counselling to try and help us move forward but it is going to take some time.
“I just hope lessons are learnt by the excursion organiser to prevent other passengers going through a similar ordeal. Obviously nothing could have prevented the driver falling ill but if another member of staff had been present, the aftermath would have been easier and we wouldn’t have all been left helpless in the middle of nowhere.”