Passengers from an ill-fated weekend bus trip to New York City that saw a Lévis teen die when the charter coach careened off the highway and rolled onto its side have begun arriving back to Quebec.

About 40 of the 54 surviving passengers returned via bus Friday night.

Others were driven back to Quebec by family and friends after they were discharged from hospitals near the scene of the crash, which occurred close to North Hudson, N.Y.

'These buses have to have seatbelts.... They would prevent a lot of accidents and they would prevent a passenger being ejected from the bus, like what happened in this case.' - Edward Jazlowiecki, Connecticut lawyer

Chelssy Mercier, 14, died in the crash after she was ejected from the bus and wound up pinned by the wreckage.

Mercier was travelling to New York City with her mother for the weekend.

Condolences to Mercier's family are now being collected on a Facebook page set up in the teen's memory.

Three other passengers remain in hospital with serious injuries, but all are expected to survive.

The bus had 55 passengers and one driver.

It is owned by Autobus Fleur de Lys and was chartered by the Jaimonvoyage tour company.

Excitement turns to terror

Passenger Audrey Lessard told CBC News that the excitement of her trip to New York City was quickly cut short by the terror of the crash.

"I heard crying and screaming," she said. 

Lessard said she suffered broken ribs and cuts that required stitches.

Passengers who were able to get out of the wreckage joined motorists to try to free Mercier and the injured.

New York State Police are investigating the crash along a stretch of highway that they say is not especially dangerous. 

However, a similar crash involving another Quebec charter bus occurred along the same stretch of highway in 2004. 

Maj. Richard Smith of the New York State Police said the investigation is focusing on the coach's black box, which records speed and other data.

"We will be able to discern what may have been going on with the driver in terms of was he braking, was he using a turn signal, how fast was he going just prior to the collision," he told CBC News.

The driver, who was not named, had close to 30 years experience and was just coming off a seven-day break. 

He was a veteran of the route and "knew it by heart," said Josiane Grimard, a spokeswoman for Jaimonvoyage.

No seatbelts

Autobus Fleur de Lys says eight buses out of its fleet of 30 are equipped with seatbelts, including all buses purchased by the company in the last two years.

However, the bus involved in the crash did not have seatbelts, which are not mandatory on passenger coaches, something lawyer Edward Jazlowiecki says needs to change.

The Connecticut lawyer's firm specializes in mass transportation disasters.

"These buses have to have seatbelts.... They would prevent a lot of accidents and they would prevent a passenger being ejected from the bus, like what happened in this case," he told CBC News. 

"Passenger cars have to have seatbelts. They have for many years. And I think it's unreasonable not to have seatbelts in buses that carry so many people because most deaths are by ejection."