Two University of Victoria students died and several people were injured after a bus on its way to a marine research centre rolled over on a narrow gravel road on Vancouver Island.
The incident happened between the communities of Port Alberni and Bamfield, said the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria, which received a call for assistance at around 10 p.m.
Three people were airlifted to a hospital in Victoria with serious or critical injuries, said Air Force Capt. David Burneau of the JRCC. Burneau said he thought everyone on the bus was an adult.
British Columbia Emergency Health Services said 17 patients were taken to hospital in total, including two in critical condition and one in serious condition. The other 14 were stable.
It said about 30 others were driven away from the scene on a bus.
The RCMP is investigating the cause of the crash.
A statement from the university said the students on the bus were headed to the Bamfield Marine Science Centre.
“Our heartfelt thoughts go out to the students’ families and loved ones, to whom we offer our sincerest condolences,” said Jamie Cassels, the university’s president.
The research centre also acts as a shared campus of several post-secondary institutions, according to its website.
An employee who answered the phone Saturday declined to comment on the centre’s programs or why the students were travelling there, but according to its website it offers summer field courses, as well as a five-course fall semester program in marine sciences.
Robert Dennis, chief councillor for the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, was driving home with his wife when they passed by the scene
“There were some people laying on the ground, laying on what appeared to be blankets and were being looked after by the rest of the students,” he said.
“They were definitely panicked.”
The bus was overturned, he said, and about six to nine metres down an embankment. The bus rested against some trees, which seemed to have stopped it from rolling further down, said Dennis.
People were helping remove others from the bus and getting them up to the roadway, Dennis said, adding that he and his wife provided them with water and a rain poncho for warmth. He said he and his wife stayed at the scene to help in any way they could.
The JRCC said it sent two Cormorant helicopters and one Buffalo search and rescue aircraft from 442 Squadron in Comox to help with the rescue effort.
Dennis said the area has no cellphone reception and he estimates he was at the scene for about two hours until first responders showed up.
He said the incident occurred on a “dangerous” narrow stretch of the road, noting that the First Nations community has been asking the provincial government for the road quality to be improved for years.
The research centre’s website warns travellers to drive slow on the “logging road,” which it says can be rough, but is usually well maintained. It also states that there is no cellphone service between Port Alberni and Bamfield.
Dennis said his thoughts are with the families of those killed and he hopes the incident will lead to increased safety measures on the road.