FIVE people were seriously injured today when a tourist coach crashed off the A83 near the Rest and Be Thankful pass in Argyll, stopping feet from a loch.
Investigations are continuing with police believing the coach was caught by a “very strong” gust of wind which sent it careering down an embankment.
A total of 19 of the 52 on board were being treated in hospital on Thursday night.
None of the injuries was said to be life-threatening.
A rest centre in Arrochar was put in place to accommodate the remaining 33 passengers on board.
Motorists helped the injured up the embankment to give them shelter in cars before helicopters and ambulances took the most seriously hurt to hospital.
The coach, operated by tour firm Lochs and Glens, was returning a group of pensioners from Kent to their hotel after a day trip to Inveraray, just west of the crash site.
Motorist Stuart Herd, who reached the scene minutes after the crash, said the coach had stopped just feet from the edge of Loch Restil.
The gallery owner said: “There were quite a lot of head injuries and old people in shock. One older gentleman collapsed. There was a lot of confusion.
“It was so cold, and a lot of people did not have coats on. We were trying to get them up the embankment into cars to keep them warm.
“The coach looks like it slid about 30ft.”
Donald Clark, owner of The George Hotel in Inveraray, said a road worker had told him the wind caught the coach and blew it over the bank.
He said: “I had friends coming up an hour before the accident happened and they said it was very blustery.
“It’s a dangerous spot – there have been a lot of accidents there. There was a Mercedes Sprinter van blown over about six weeks ago. There is a gully there and there is a funny wind pattern.”
Police Scotland said the seriously injured were taken to the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow – which specialises in head injuries – and the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley.
Chief Inspector Fraser Candlish said: “This has clearly been a terrifying experience for all of those involved and officers have been working closely with our partners to provide support to those effected and ensure everyone’s safety.
“Inquiries are ongoing to establish the exact circumstances surrounding the incident, however early indications would suggest that the high winds may have been a factor.”
The Royal Navy said search and rescue helicopters from HMS Gannet at Prestwick and RAF Lossiemouth in Moray airlifted four people to hospital.
Transport minister Derek Mackay said Scottish ministers had been kept “fully informed”.
A spokeswoman for Lochs and Glens said it was supporting the passengers and relatives, and “co-operating fully” with the police.