The bus involved in the tragic crash that killed two University of Victoria students was finally moved from the scene late Saturday, 20 hours after it happened. The broken windows on one side of the coach show how it rolled onto that side throwing most of the passengers around inside the cabin.
The muddy bank it went down is still littered with personal effects like shoes and water bottles.
The cause of the crash hasn’t been determined but Huu-ay-aht First Nation chief Robert Dennis, who came upon the scene minutes after the crash, says he heard the driver say he was affected by the lights of an oncoming vehicle. A student who was on the bus told CHEK News she also noticed a flash of light before the bus veered to the right.
It appears the driver was unable to maneuver the bus back on to the road after the wheels on that side went off the road or the soft shoulder gave away. The bus then rolled onto its side and slid down the slope.
“This time of year when you get regular rain the road is in really bad shape,” said Dennis.
Potholes make driving the road extremely slow and rough.
Chief Dennis and other local governments have been calling for improvements to the 85 km gravel road between Port Alberni and Bamfield to make it safer. The road is winding, narrow in spots and there are no safety barriers along sections that have significant drop-offs at the side of the road. Heavy rains can also make the edge of the gravel road soft to drive on.
“I couldn’t speak to what specifically needs to be upgraded on that road because so many things need to be upgraded,” said Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions. “It’s getting busier and busier all the time and it’s not in good condition.”
“We’ve even said we’re willing to partner with the [Province] to get it done and we would contribute financially to get the road done,” added Dennis.
The logging road is owned and maintained by Western Forest Products but those worried about public safety want the Province to help.
A Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development spokesperson released this bullet-point response Sunday:
Our hearts go out to the families and people affected by this tragedy.
• Transport Canada and RCMP Vancouver Island Traffic Services are investigating.
• It is important to allow the investigation to unfold before speculating on possible causes.
• This is not a ministry road. This is a private road operated and maintained by Western Forest Products.
• Any further inquiries should be directed to the RCMP Vancouver Island Traffic Services.
Sharie Minions says the City will keep trying.
“We have made our own request to the Province as well for safety improvements to that road so we’ll be following up on those,” she said.