At that same moment driver Glenn Berg was startled to see headlights flashing toward him as he negotiated a narrow turn. He swerved to avoid a possible collision, and the bus went into a sidelong skid, scraping the guardrail in a shower of sparks for several hundred feet before bursting through.
Al Kuzmoski of Seattle, driving his car some distance behind the bus, watched in horror as it plunged into the Snoqualmie abyss. "I just saw the tail end disappear over the side," he told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "And then, when I pulled over, I saw it rolling over and over straight down." There were no trees in this part of the canyon to halt the lethal descent. The bus seemed to bounce like a rubber ball off massive boulders as it plummeted an estimated 350 feet. And then it exploded in flames—a "pyre," read a Post-Intelligencer headline, "a raging holocaust."
Hallbourg somehow survived as the flaming wreckage rode to its final, explosive stop. He is convinced now that the seat next to him, vacated by Lohrke, saved his life: "I was in the middle of the bus. The gas tanks exploded in the front. The roof was caved in, but because I had that extra space, I was able to crouch down and hang on as hard as I could to the seat in front of me."
When the hellish ride was over, Hallbourg, his pitching arm and hand burned, his hair singed, his body a mass of scrapes and bruises, heard no sound but the crackling of flames at the front of the bus. "There was such a stillness," he recalls. "I didn't even hear yells or screams when we went over the side."
As the flames bore down on him, he wriggled through a broken window. Dazed and in pain, he staggered away from the wreckage in search of his teammates. The first he saw was the Chief, McCormack, his nose smashed, his face a mask of blood. But alive. The two men shook hands, one survivor greeting another. Then they heard terrible cries from above and saw the crushed body of young Picetti lying on a boulder. "It looked like he'd been thrown out ahead and then the bus rolled over him," Hallbourg says. "I thought, Oh, no, this can't be happening." He placed his jacket over the suffering young man.
State patrolmen and state forest rangers reached the scene quickly and, after lowering themselves by ropes, used pulleys to raise the injured and the dead from the fiery canyon. "Rescue squads roped down the muddy bank to the bottom of the ravine with the aid of emergency red flares and spotlights that cast a garish light over the scene of horror," the Post-Intelligencer reported. John Bullard, a Seattle photographer taking pictures of the accident for the state patrol, told the newspaper, "I have covered many tragic accidents...but I never have seen anything like I saw tonight. It was like a nightmare—the smashed bus burning in the canyon and the rain slanting down and the mountains looming all around."
The few players capable of movement tried to help. Pete Barisoff, a young pitcher, pulled catcher Irv Konopka through a window of the bus to safety. Barisoff had a chipped heel bone, Konopka a fractured shoulder. "If I'd been hurt as bad as he was, we both would have cooked in the fire," Barisoff said later.
Six of the Spokane Indians—Cole, Paterson, James, Martinez, Kinnaman and 23-year-old shortstop George Risk—had been killed instantly. Picetti was pronounced dead on arrival that night at King County Hospital in Seattle. George Lyden, a 22-year-old relief pitcher, died the next day, Hartje a day later. Nine dead. It was the worst accident in the history of professional baseball. Eight of the nine victims had lived through the worst war in history, only to die on a bus. The six survivors (not counting Berg, the driver, who also lived) were all seriously injured. Only a few would ever play again...and those not for very long.
Cadinha and Faria didn't learn of the tragedy until early the next morning. They hurried to the hospital and were stunned by what they saw. "We were shocked to death," says Cadinha. "There wasn't even room for them all in the hospital. All those super, super guys...gone."
When the hitchhiking Lohrke finally got back to Spokane, he called Collins to find out when he was supposed to report to San Diego. "There's been a terrible accident," Collins told him. "They think it's our boys." After learning the details, Lohrke wired his parents in Los Angeles. "Safe and sound," he wrote. "Back in Spokane." John and Marguerite Lohrke were mystified; they hadn't yet heard of the Snoqualmie horror. They soon did, however, for the accident was a nationwide shocker, both in and out of baseball.