Three US Navy sailors are dead after two military buses carrying them to a memorial service in Beaufort crashed. It happened at about 8am this morning at the intersection of Highways 17 and 21 in Gardens Corner, about ten miles north of Beaufort.
About 100 sailors were on the buses when police say the lead bus swerved into the path of an oncoming truck. The second bus swerved to avoid the crash, hit a ditch and came to a stop in someone's yard. Three of the sailors died and dozen more have been sent to the hospital.
When the vehicles collided, there was an instantaneous reaction from other drivers and sailors. "We pulled off the side of the road, and I hopped out and tried to help out the best I could, along with dozens of other good sailors trying to help out their shipmates," said Lt. Com. Brian Morrill of the USS Pinchney.
"There were numerous injured people lying on the highway," said William Winn of Beaufort Emergency Management. "The Sheldon Fire District took the incident command, declared a mass casualty situation which brought a whole host of response."
Literally hundreds of paramedics, police, and volunteers swarmed Highway 17. There was even a helicopter on the scene within minutes from Beaufort's Marine Corps Air Station. "Lot of good folks around here trying to do a lot of good things, so for that we thank them," said Lt. Com. Morrill.
The accident scene was finally completely cleared by about 4pm. Representatives from National Transportation Safety Board are on their way down from Washington, DC, to conduct an investigation.
More than 70 people suffered injuries in today's accident, and medical crews rushed them to local hospitals. The hospitals went into mass casualty mode as soon as they heard about the accident. While emergency crews rushed to the scene, hospital officials were waiting for the sailors to arrive at the William Pinckney memorial service.
They would end up arriving, but at area hospitals. "We had gone into mass casualty mode, and prepared for accepting casualties here," said Patricia Binns of Beaufort Naval Hospital.
The hospital ended up treating about 40 people. Most were treated and released, while three remain in stable condition. At Beaufort Memorial Hospital, three Navy patients were treated and sent to the Naval Hospital for admission, four were treated admitted, and two were treated and released. The most seriously injured sailors were airlifted to Savannah's Memorial Health and a Charleston hospital.
Naval hospital spokesperson Patricia Binns says most of the survivors suffered minimal injuries. "Mostly cuts and scrapes, some back injuries, but nothing traumatic."
Some have to stay overnight to prevent anything further.