Commuting firefighters free injured passengers in Chicago airport shuttle crash
They were driving behind the bus when it crashed near O'Hare Airport; 4 were seriously injured
Chicago — Two firefighters on their way to work were the first at the scene of a shuttle bus crash at O'Hare International Airport this morning, helping to free the driver and attending to passengers who had been thrown against seats and windows.
“A lot of blood, a lot of what seemed like broken bones," said Robert Gembala, assigned to the rescue station at O'Hare.
Gembala said he was two lanes across from the bus on Interstate 190 leading into the airport when he saw it crash into a median near Bessie Coleman Drive around 6:30 a.m.
"All of a sudden you see it stop and it's even with you with the nose crushed," Gembala told reporters. "It was kind of surreal. The bus was just going and then straight into the barrier. There was steam and smoke coming out of the front of the bus."
Gembala said he grabbed a medical kit from his car and rushed to the bus, where he was joined by another firefighter, Rory Williams, who had been driving a few cars behind the bus.
Williams checked on the driver, who was pinned against the steering, then grabbed a ball-peen hammer from his car and broke a window to free her. "It's amazing what firefighters carry with them," Gembala said.
The driver, who works for the airport, was taken to Lutheran General Hospital in serious condition. Williams, who injured his back during the rescue, was in good condition there.
Meanwhile Gembala opened the back door of the bus to check on the passengers. "There were a lot of couples and families together. . .They were making sure that they were checking with each other. . . People were in shock, some were walking to the door."
No one appeared to have life-threatening injuries but "a few people we had to board and collar."
Four people were to taken to hospitals in serious-to-critical condition, five in fair-to-serious condition and five in good-to-fair condition, according to fire communications. They were sent to Loyola University Medical Center, Lutheran General Hospital, Resurrection Medical Center and Swedish Covenant Hospital.
The crash happened as the bus was headed from a remote lot to the departure terminals, officials said. An Emergency Medical Services Plan 2 was called, sending 14 ambulances. Officials worked to clear traffic to get them to the scene and all but one lane of the I-190 entrance to O'Hare was closed. By 8:30 a.m., all lanes were reopened.
As traffic backed up, dozens of people started getting out of cars and taxis and walking on the shoulders to the terminals, getting in the way of the ambulances.
"People were basically bailing on their vehicles in an effort to get to their flight," said Fire Chief Timothy Sampey. "It’s understandable but at some point in time we had to gain control of them to get them off the shoulders where the emergency vehicles were trying to get to the scene."
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