Crash bewilders bus driver

It was a route school bus driver Tammy Bodman knew by heart. For the last three years she had made the same hour-long trip to pick up rural students to drop off at Bowden Grandview School and Wednesday was no different.

School bus driver Tammy Bodman a day after she crashed her school bus through a large washed out roadway near Bowden.

School bus driver Tammy Bodman a day after she crashed her school bus through a large washed out roadway near Bowden.

It was a route school bus driver Tammy Bodman knew by heart.

For the last three years she had made the same hour-long trip to pick up rural students to drop off at Bowden Grandview School and Wednesday was no different.

“It was going actually like it does every other day until I hit my second-to-last pick-up,” said Bodman.

Three kilometres later, Bodman was sitting, stunned, in her seat, wondering what had just happened.

Her bus had gone airborne, slammed into the gravel road and ground to a halt in a cloud of dust. Behind her, a dozen frightened youngsters were equally bewildered.

Bodman, 38, didn’t know it at the time, but her bus had somehow cleared a three-metre gap in the gravel road just a few kilometres northeast of Bowden that had been washed out the previous night when a culvert failed.

“I really didn’t get any inclination that anything was going to be different until I landed on the other side.

“(It was) absolutely horrible. I didn’t know what had just happened.”

The six-year school bus driver reacted immediately to get her bus under control.

“When I landed we landed hard. I thought we were going to go through the trees and I thought it was going to roll into the swamp.”

“That’s kind of where reality set in for me, when we landed and I saw where we were headed.”

Bodman managed to stop the bus quickly and radioed in what had happened. In keeping with protocol, all stayed in the bus.

The dozen students she was carrying were “very, very scared and upset.

“Everybody was traumatized. I mean that was a horrible thing to have to go through.”

Local residents showed up to lend a hand, including a registered nurse, who helped check out the children. Police and other emergency services people were soon on scene.

Three children, a Grade 9 student and two Grade 6 students, were taken to Innisfail Hospital to be treated for minor injuries. The Grade 9 student was later transferred to Red Deer Regional Hospital with a jaw injury. Bodman, who was wearing a seatbelt, escaped with bumps and bruises. She also got herself checked out at Innisfail’s hospital.

Later in the day, she returned to get a look at what she had passed.

Her reaction was, “Oh my God.

“I don’t know even what the words for that are,” she said of her first thoughts. “Complete and utter shock — and that someone was with us.”

“If it had nose-dived into there it would have been tragic — absolutely.”

Bodman is sure she would have been killed and probably many of the children. “I had a guardian angel helping us that day.”

Looking at the gap and the five-metre-deep hole, she doesn’t really understand how the bus made it over.

“I don’t know if anybody ever will,” she said. “I just truly believe it happened for a reason. Between me not panicking, and I guess how I handled it. It was just meant to be that way.

“We were very lucky.”

There was much that was fortunate that day. The bus had less than half its normal load because of exams. Her own daughter — a regular passenger — wasn’t on board that day, instead taking advantage of the weather to ride her bike to school. She also has a son.

Since Bodman’s experience she has been flooded with phone calls from colleagues, school staff, families of the children, and complete strangers offering well wishes.

“Everybody has been so phenomenal.”

With only a few days of classes left, Bodman won’t take the wheel again this school year.

But she’ll be in her usual spot behind the wheel in the fall.

“You bet, I’ll be back on next year. I love driving the bus and I love the kids on it. It’s like a second family.

“I cannot let that stop me. That’s the job for me.”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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