New South Wales Police Superintendent Tracey Chapman said emergency officers responded to reports of the crash at around 11.30pm local time on Sunday and arrived to find a “confronting and very traumatic scene”.
The bus overturned near the roundabout that connects the scenic Hunter Valley wine region to the expressway.
Chapman said forensic investigators remained at the scene of the crash Monday morning and that victims may still be trapped under the debris.
“We’re still trying to identify everyone who was on the bus,” Chapman said. He declined to specify the ages of the passengers, but said no children were on board.
Chapman said it was too early to release the cause of the crash, but the driver was arrested and taken to a local police station, then taken to a hospital for mandatory tests.
“We have enough information to establish that there will be charges. But I won’t go into the details of those at this time,” Chapman said at a news conference.
He said the bus passengers were attending a wedding at Wandin Estate – a popular winery and wedding venue – on Sunday and headed to Singleton, about 20 miles away, to stay the night.
All Australians who have been awakened by the tragic news of the Hunter send our deepest condolences to the loved ones of those who died in this horrific bus tragedy.
It is truly cruel for a happy day to end in such a devastating loss.
Our thoughts are also with those injured.
— Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) June 11, 2023
“We all know the joy of attending a wedding, an opportunity to celebrate with dear friends and family. Those are the happiest times you can have,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told a press conference on Monday. “For such a happy day, in such a beautiful place, to end with such terrible loss of life and injury is so cruel and so sad and so unfair.”
He promised to help the victims and their families.
On its website, the winery is reassuring An “unrivaled” experience with “the perfect blend of Hunter beauty, aromatic settings, seasonal local cuisine, fine wines”.
The winery did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement issued on Instagram, Wandin’s estate said, “We are deeply saddened to hear of the overnight bus accident that claimed the lives of some of our guests.” It offered its “heartfelt condolences” to the family and friends of the victims.
Local lawmaker Clayton Barr described the road where the accident occurred as “well lit”, with a good road surface and a low speed limit.
“It’s a reminder of how fragile our lives are when we’re actually on the road,” he told Australia’s Nine television network.
“Friend of animals everywhere. Devoted analyst. Total alcohol scholar. Infuriatingly humble food trailblazer.”