On this day in 2009, a usually lonely stretch of Interstate 90 west of Austin swarmed with emergency medical technicians, paramedics, firefighters and law enforcement officers responding to a coach bus crash that killed two and injured 21.

Have a look back at our coverage from that day and the months that followed. A lawsuit by passengers produced a $3.25 million settlement.

First responders, motorists help at chaotic scene

By Kurt Nesbitt, Jeff Kiger, Jeffrey Pieters, Brian Sander and Mike Dougherty

A usually lonely stretch of Interstate 90 west of Austin on Wednesday afternoon swarmed with emergency medical technicians, paramedics, firefighters and law enforcement officers responding to a coach bus crash that killed two and injured 21.

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Six medical helicopters and several ambulances transported patients.

Passersby helped right after the crash, officials said. Some passengers were easily helped out of the bus and treated at the scene, but others had to be extricated, taking much longer. Firefighters had to enter the bus through its roof hatches and front windshield.

Two heavy-duty tow trucks pulled the bus back onto its wheels. By 8 p.m., the bus was out of the ditch.

One Mayo Clinic helicopter left the scene at 3:40 p.m.; two more medical helicopters left at 4 p.m. By 4:10 p.m., all of the injured passengers had been removed from the bus. At about 4:45 p.m., Mayo Clinic in Rochester declared a "code yellow," a status that alerts staff to prepare for a large number of trauma patients.

Traffic along I-90 was backed up in both directions for more than two miles. It was closed for hours, and finally reopened late Wednesday. Traffic was routed onto old U.S. Highway 16 at the Petran exit.

Motorists helped at scene

Capt. Matthew Langer of the Minnesota State Patrol credited motorists for helping at the scene.

"This was a chaotic and complex scene," Langer said.

John Mauer of Albert Lea was driving home on I-90 after working in Austin when he saw the bus shoot across the median and into his lane. Mauer and the car behind him veered to the left while the bus kept going across, hit the bank of the ditch, then ricocheted and flipped over. One of the front wheels appeared to be torn off.

"It came so close that when I got home I picked grass that was under the bus off my wipers," said Mauer.

A woman who stopped to help told Mauer that the bus seemed to fly through the air.

Once he had avoided the bus and stopped, Mauer ran to the backdoor of the bus. "You could hear people scrambling around and moaning. Some people, you could tell, were really injured," Mauer said.

He said he worked to try to keep everyone in their places on the overturned bus. One man went out the front window.

Mauer talked briefly with the driver, who had a cut on his head and kept passing out. He asked the driver how many people were on the bus because it looked so empty.

A passenger who sat behind the driver told Mauer that when the bus started going off the highway, he looked at the driver and he appeared to be slumped over the steering wheel.

Injuries range from minor to critical

Eleven patients were taken to Austin Medical Center, and eight were admitted. Six patients were taken to Albert Lea Medical Center, and three were admitted. Three patients were brought to Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester, and another later was transferred there.

Langer said the passengers’ injuries ranged from bumps and bruises to critical.

"This was a truly tragic event since everyone was either injured or killed," said Langer. "All of them were heading home from what likely was a very enjoyable outing. The bright point is no other vehicles were involved."

The state patrol said the road was clear and dry at the time of the accident.

The bus went to the Diamond Jo Casino in Iowa monthly recently, said Randy Lavoie, a spokesman for Strain Bus Line of Rochester, although it can run on a weekly basis at busier times of the year.

"Mr. Strain (Dalmer Strain, the owner) knows a lot of the passengers," Lavoie said. "You get to know a lot of the passengers on a first-name basis. It becomes more like a family atmosphere."

Material from the Associated Press and news services was used in this report.

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