'Blood everywhere': Bamfield bus crash survivors describes chaotic moments
Published Monday, September 16, 2019 9:19AM PDT Last Updated Tuesday, September 17, 2019 8:18AM PDT
A woman who survived the bus crash that claimed the lives of two University of Victoria students Friday night said there was blood and glass everywhere after the vehicle careened off a remote logging road.
Maggie McCormack said first-year biology students were headed to the Bamfield Marine Science Centre when something went wrong. She was one of several people to be airlifted to hospital in the aftermath.
"All I remember was the gravel and the feeling of the skidding (down) the road and the bus falling sideways," McCormack told CTV News. "I hit my head and I was unconscious for a bit-- and when I came to, everyone was screaming."
She added, "I'm not doing well. I'm better than some but I have whiplash and a concussion and bruising."
McCormack said she's also struggling to deal with the mental impact of what she saw and heard. She knew both of the students who died.
She started a Facebook group so those impacted by the tragedy can keep in touch, and said a vigil is in the works.
On Monday, the coroner said an 18-year-old woman from Winnipeg and an 18-year-old man from Iowa died at the scene. Their families have been notified.
Officials have not publicly identified either victim, but friends said the man was John Geerdes, from Iowa City.
The woman was identified as Emma Machado, who had fallen in love with Victoria during her time at the school, her family told CTV News Vancouver Island.
She was loving, generous, outgoing and smart, her parents said.
Machado had just moved to the city two weeks before her death.
"We have a lot of plans," her sister, Samantha, told CTV News Winnipeg Monday.
A post on a Facebook page set up for the men's soccer team at Iowa City's City High School identified Geerdes as a 2019 graduate who was a leader, a hard worker and a true friend.
Geerdes was a varsity soccer player, and his former coach remembers him fondly.
"He was just a big guy with a big heart," Jose Michel Fajardo
It appeared he also ran for class president. Video posted online shows Geerdes' campaign.
In an email to CTV News, City High principal John Bacon described the teen as a "kind, intelligent, respectful, special young man." He added Geerdes leaves behind four siblings and his parents. "His family are really wonderful people," Bacon said.
A University of Victoria student who said he was friends with Geerdes posted on social media that the young man had been looking forward to the trip he and his classmates were on when their bus crashed.
"He woke up at 6 a.m., the day of sign up, just to make sure he could get his name on the list… What I will always be grateful for is that I gave John a hug before he left," Darcy Smith wrote on Facebook.
Calls for change
Officials who regularly use the remote road said Sunday it has been in need of repairs for some time.
Although it's privately owned and primarily used by logging trucks, it's also a primary route for accessing the science centre.
"It's getting busier and busier all the time, and it's not in good condition," Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions said.
Huu-ay-aht First Nation Chief Robert Dennis, who witnessed the crash, said his nation has also been pushing for upgrades. He said the potholes make it a challenge to navigate, and much of the route is without cellphone signal.
That sentiment was echoed by Michael Anderson, who owns West Coast Train Express. He said speed can make the road dangerous.
"Most people on that road aren't on the right side of the road, they're in the middle, they're on the left, wherever the potholes are better," he added.
There is some hope the weekend's tragic crash will renew efforts to upgrade the road. Bob Beckett, with the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District said community members would gather Monday night to talk about how to get the government to take action.
"I hope these deaths won't be in vain," he said.
B.C. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said she's heard concerns from the region's MLA and from the First Nation about the road.
"Ministry officials have been looking into the issue to determine if safety improvements could be made. The situation is complex as this is a private, industrial road, operated and maintained by private companies for active forestry operations," Trevena said.
The logging road is owned by Western Forest Products and Huumiis Ventures Limited Partnership. Western Forest Products said in a statement that the road is regularly maintained, and that the portion where the crash occurred had been graded the day before the incident.
"Western has supported local communities' requests to upgrade the road and has written letters of support to provincial ministers on the matter," the company added. "We would like to express our deepest sympathies to the victims and their families and to those who were injured in the incident. Like everyone in the community, we were heartbroken to learn of this tragedy."
The Huu-ay-aht First Nation says it's offered to help cover the costs of any upgrades to the road.
The stretch of privately owned forest service road was so remote it took first responders more than an hour to reach the victims Friday night.
The RCMP said in a statement Monday that alcohol has been ruled out as a contributing factor, but the cause of the crash remains under investigation.
The driver of a second vehicle who was in the area at the time remained at the scene and provided assistance, Mounties said. Their role in the crash, if any, will be part of the investigation.
"Over the upcoming weeks, police will be covering off a number of investigative steps in an effort to determine the cause of the collision, which include analysing over 40 statements," the RCMP said.
The bus company, Wilson Transportation, told CTV News the driver was experienced, and suffered non-life-threatening injuries in the crash.
Witnesses, including Chief Dennis of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, said the bus ended up overturned, and about 20 to 30 feet down an embankment.
"One girl was screaming and crying. She wanted to get home… I could only see the wheels and the bottom frame of the bus," Dennis told CTV News over the weekend.
Two students died and many others were injured. Island Health said Monday that 33 people were triaged at West Coast General Hospital, and 3 were airlifted to hospital in Victoria. Of those, 2 had been released and the condition of the third was unknown.
The bus carrying 45 students and two teaching assistants had been on their way to the Bamfield Marine Science Centre.
McCormack disputed earlier reports it was raining at the time. She said it was sometime after students had left the bus that it started to rain.
Counselling for students
UVic's president said the school worked through the weekend to meet with students and their families, and is offering counselling services.
"As you return to campus this morning, I know many of you share my sense of sorrow following the devastating accident Friday night," Jamie Cassels wrote.
"The loss of members of our campus community in any circumstances is distressing. These bright young people were united in their desire to experience the research and learning possibilities on Vancouver Island's west coast. My heartfelt condolences go out to them and their loved ones."
Students who wish to use counselling services are asked to call 250-721-7599, while staff can contact the Employee and Family Assistance Program.
There will also be a space to have quiet reflection at the school's Interfaith Chapel.
"Let us remember to support one another during this difficult time," the president wrote.
With files from CTV News Vancouver Island and CTV News Vancouver's Sheila Scott