The mood in Port Alberni is somber after news of a bus crash on Bamfield Road Friday night (Sept. 13), which resulted in two fatalities and multiple injuries.
Two University of Victoria students were killed after a bus crashed en route to the Marine Sciences Centre at Bamfield as part of a two-day class trip. The bus was carrying 48 people, including the driver, at the time of the accident. Three people were airlifted to Victoria General Hospital with injuries, while the rest of the passengers were taken to a reception centre set up by the City of Port Alberni at the Echo Community Centre.
“It’s an awful situation,” said Mayor Sharie Minions on Saturday morning. “Especially when you hear that it’s a group of young people. I think a lot of people are really feeling the impacts of this.”
Members of the community have been reaching out since last night, said Minions, with offers to volunteer at the reception centre.
“We are just so saddened by this awful tragedy and our condolences go out to the families affected,” she said. “I just can’t imagine what they are going through.”
Minions said she is proud of the response that was pulled together by the city. Echo Centre staff, led by parks, recreation and heritage director Willa Thorpe, opened the reception centre in the middle of the night so uninjured passengers could receive warmth, food and an opportunity to contact their families. City CAO Tim Pley was also up all night coordinating the efforts.
The reception centre closed at about 5 a.m. and victims of the crash were transported to local hotels to get some rest.
“I’ve seen a big improvement with city staff, recognizing that we have an important role to support people in a situation like this, whether it’s within the city limits or not,” said Minions. “I think the city really stepped up and did as much as they could to make a horrible situation for these people as comfortable as possible.”
The response goes beyond the city, she added.
“The school district providing a bus, the hotels who arranged accommodation, those who offered to volunteer,” she said. “I am proud of how amazing a response we were able to provide during such an awful tragedy.”
While the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District is usually responsible for emergency planning and services, the ACRD was not involved in this incident.
“In this case I don’t believe ACRD staff was mobilized,” said Minions. “At the City we have a lot more resources and in a case like this we just jump into action.”
Port Alberni Fire Department Fire Chief Mike Owens said the department received the call at 9:45 p.m. on Friday night and responded to the scene of the incident. A bus had rolled 20 feet down an embankment near the 36-kilometre marker near the Carmanah Main Junction. The cause of the incident is still unclear.
“The bus was overturned, it was on its side,” Owens explained. “We needed to utilize rope rescue equipment to get down to the bus.”
In the bus, they found two deceased individuals, as well as one person that required extrication. Others had made it up the embankment either on their own or with assistance.
Other organizations involved in the initial emergency response included RCMP, BC Emergency Health Services, the Alberni Valley Rescue Squad, Huu-ay-aht First Nations and the 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron. School District 70 provided a bus to transport passengers.
Bamfield Road is an approximately 85 km stretch of mostly gravel road between the communities of Port Alberni and Bamfield. The road is heavily used by large trucks, tourists and residents of the southern Barclay Sound area. The city, ACRD and other coastal communities have been calling for safety improvements to Bamfield Road for years.
Minions said she travelled the road over the summer and was “appalled” by the condition.
“We all know that Huu-ay-aht [First Nations] has really been leading the charge for improvements to the Bamfield Road,” she added. “The city has reached out to the province and requested safety improvements to that road as well. It will continue to be a push. There’s a lot of work to be done, and situations like last night really highlight that.”
The city will continue to support the communities affected, the RCMP and emergency response agencies as more details become available. For family members seeking information, RCMP are asking that you call 250-723-2424.