A woman who was a passenger on a Greyhound bus involved in the multi-vehicle crash Sunday evening that closed the Coquihalla Highway describes scenes of chaos and fear, as well as an organized response by rescue crews.
Jane Green, a Surrey resident traveling from Salmon Arm to the Lower Mainland, said it felt like the crash happened in slow motion.
RCMP have yet to comment on the number of vehicles involved, but Hope Search and Rescue said Monday the chain-reaction crash involved four semi-trucks, four buses and 11 private vehicles. The wreck closed the highway in both directions for six hours.
Green’s bus driver lost control on the slippery, snowy road and crashed into a semi-truck already stalled on the highway.
“It went on for a while, we hit the semi and we were still moving,” she told the Hope Standard, saying the bus she was in kept sliding down the highway after impact.
“I was fearful that we would slide over and fall over there too. We got hit from behind as well. I don’t know what hit us from behind.”
Another bus came up behind theirs, she said, and slid into the embankment, landing upside down, followed by another car.
“I was scared. I thought those people were hurt or dead, that had fallen off the road, and I thought we could be next,” she said.
“Because things were ongoing and I didn’t know what was going to happen, if we were going to slide off the road too, I wanted to send out a text to my children, but I also didn’t want to upset them.”
Instead she texted the father of her children: “I’m in an accident, it’s a bad accident, it’s still ongoing, please check on the kids.”
The scene inside the bus was chaotic until everything finally came to a stop.
“We were yelling and screaming during the accident. I was yelling ‘No, no!’ But then it all stopped. Everybody was quite calm and just waiting, waiting for something to happen. Waiting for the rescuers,” she said.
People began clambering out of the overturned bus on the embankment and a third Greyhound bus lodged between two semi-trucks. They escaped through windows and hatches, some bleeding. They made their way onto Green’s bus, which was less damaged on impact.
Paramedics eventually came on board to check on those injured. The road was then cleared and Green’s bus made its way to a warming centre at Hope Secondary School.
“I’m actually quite impressed by how organized the rescue people were,” Green said, adding plans kept changing but the passengers were kept informed.
The response involved multiple emergency response agencies: Hope Search and Rescue, Chilliwack Search and Rescue, Hope Fire Department, Agassiz Fire Department and the Popkum Volunteer Fire Department. Twenty-two units from the BC Emergency Health Services responded as well.
Hospitals in Hope and Chilliwack called a “code orange” in preparation for mass casualties coming in from the crash. Twenty-nine people were seen at the Fraser Canyon Hospital. Another 136 people were taken to the warming centre.
Final update on the #Coquihalla MVI: A total of 29 patients were transported to hospital by ground and air in conditions ranging from stable to critical. A total of 136 uninjured people were taken to a warming centre in Hope. We have now cleared the scene. #bcehs
— EmergHealthServices (@BC_EHS) February 26, 2018
We want to confirm that all of the BC Winter Games participants arrived home safely last night on BC Games transportation and were not involved in the accident on the Coquihalla. Our thoughts are with those affected by the accident.
— BC Games (@BCGames1) February 26, 2018
Winter weather was a “major contributing factor” to the crash, the RCMP stated, reminding drivers to keep slow speeds, increase space between vehicles and use winter-weather tires.
Transportation Minister Claire Trevena would not comment directly on the incident, but said the highway had been plowed 20 minutes before the crash.
“We are making sure that the contractors are working as fast as possible,” she told reporters in Victoria. “They were ready for this bad weather, they were working hard.”
Trevena added higher standards of highway maintenance will be negotiated with contractors, but next steps will only be decided once the investigation into the crash is wrapped up.