Two University of Victoria students are dead following a rollover bus crash between Port Alberni and Bamfield Friday night.
According to Cst. Doug Pennington with the RCMP’s Central Vancouver Island Traffic Services, a charter bus carrying 48 people was heading to Bamfield when it went off the roadway on Bamfield Main (a gravel road) and down an embankment. Police confirmed two people died at the scene.
In a statement released Saturday morning, University of Victoria President Jamie Cassels said the two people who died were UVic students.
“It is with profound sadness and deep regret that I inform you that two students have passed away as a result of a bus crash mid-Island on the way to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre,” Cassels said in the statement.
The names of the two students who died have not been released.
“As a matter of privacy, the university will not be disclosing personal information about students,” Cassels said in the statement.
Chief Robert Dennis of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, who lives near Bamfield, came across the scene shortly after the crash happened. “One girl was screaming and crying,” said Dennis, “Most of the students were up on the road. I could see they were still helping people to take them from out of the bus and up the hill.”
“The bus was completely overturned. I could only see the wheels and the bottom frame of the bus,” added Dennis, who said he also overheard the driver of the bus say he had been blinded by the lights of an oncoming vehicle.
“My feelings are for the ones who have lost loved ones,” said Dennis. “We wish them all the support in our prayers.”
A massive joint operation saw as many as 10 ambulances and the Port Alberni Fire Department race to the scene. “A motorcoach had gone off the road and was on its side,” said Port Alberni Deputy Fire Chief Wes Patterson. “A number of passengers were up on the road, and there were still trapped people in the coach itself.”
The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) says they were also called to assist around 10 p.m. Friday night. Two Cormorant helicopters and a Buffalo fixed-wing aircraft were sent from 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron in Comox to the scene.
Search and rescue officials helped secure the bus and bring those on board up the road.
Air Force Capt. David Burneau says three people were also airlifted to a hospital in Victoria with serious or critical injuries.
He says 35 others were taken to another hospital for minor injuries or as a precaution.
Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions said she was “just horrified” when she heard the news. “Especially when you hear it’s a group of young people, travelling for their education,” said Minions.
On Saturday, many of the students who were treated for minor injuries boarded another motor coach to return to UVic. The students arrived mid-afternoon at the the Farquhar Auditorium where they were met by family and friends.
University staff and support services were also in place as they arrived. Sources say the students were first-year biology students who were on board the motor coach, on their way to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre for a two-day trip.
“Our heartfelt thoughts and most sincere condolences go out to all of those affected by this,” said Valerie Kuehne, Vice-President Academic and Provost at UVic. “The students, their families, all of those that are closest to them as well. When anything like this happens at the University of Victoria community, it affects us all very deeply.”
Support services at the University are available to anyone affected by the incident.
Students who need support on the weekend are asked to contact Campus Security Services at 250-721-7599 for counselling services.
Faculty and staff can contact the Employee and Family Assistance Program at 1-844-880-9142.
The students were on a charter bus operated by Wilson’s Transportation. At a press conference on Sunday, CEO John Wilson said “the driver is an experienced driver with driver training certification.”
“We do not know what caused the incident at this time,” Wilson said. “We are cooperating fully and working with the RCMP and all of those involved to help in whatever way we can.”
Wilson’s Transportation says the bus was up to date with maintenance, and was equipped with seat restraints.
Any family members wanting information on the bus incident are asked to call Port Alberni RCMP at 250-723-2424.
With files from The Canadian Press