Two university students have been killed and several others have been seriously hurt after a bus rolled over on Vancouver Island, according to the University of Victoria.
Officials said the bus was on its way to the Bamfield Marine Science Centre when it rolled over on a gravel road Friday evening.
The bus was carrying 47 passengers when the crash happened around 10 p.m. on Bamfield Main, a logging road roughly 50 kilometers from Port Alberni.
"Our heartfelt thoughts go out to the students’ families and loved ones, to whom we offer our sincerest condolences," said Jamie Cassels, president of the University of Victoria, in a statement.
"We also grieve with those closest to these members of our campus community, including roommates, friends, classmates and professors who were in contact with them during their time on campus."
Though privately owned and used primarily for logging trucks, the road also serves as a primary route for accessing Bamfield Marine Science Centre and the Huuayaht First Nation.
Huuayaht Chief Robert Dennis was one of the first people to arrive at the crash scene Friday night. He said most of the passengers were standing on the road, using their phones' flashlight functions to flag down approaching vehicles.
"They were still helping people to take them from out of the bus and up the hill," Dennis said. "I parked our truck so we could give them more light."
He said the bus was 20 to 30 feet down a fairly steep embankment. When firefighters arrived from Port Alberni and joined in the rescue efforts, they tied ropes around themselves as a precaution.
"The bus was completely overturned," Dennis said. "I could only see the wheels and the bottom frame of the bus."
The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Victoria tasked out two CH-149 Cormorant helicopters and one CC-115 Buffalo fixed wing aircraft from CFB Comox to assist BC Emergency Health Services with the rescue.
The pilots couldn't land the helicopters at the scene so ambulances took the injured to an airport in Port Alberni, he said. From there, three people were airlifted to hospital.
Two of them were in critical condition and one in serious condition, said Andrea Visscher, a spokeswoman for British Columbia Emergency Health Services.
Fourteen others in stable condition were taken by ground transportation to local hospitals, she said. BC EHS was unable to provide an update on any of the injured people's conditions.
“Once they're admitted into hospital, we don't get any further updates from them,” Visscher said.
A school bus drove 29 others away from the scene, she said.
The first victims started to arrive at West Coast General Hospital by ground ambulance around 1:30 a.m Saturday.
Mounties are investigating the cause of the crash, which Dennis said looked like it occurred at a curve in the road. He said headlights from another vehicle could have taken the driver of the bus by surprise.
"It's coming around the corner," Dennis said. "The other vehicle more than likely would have appeared very suddenly."
The Wilson's Group, which owns Wilson's Transportation Ltd., said in a statement that one of its buses was involved in the accident.
“Our immediate concern is with the passengers, the driver and their families,” read the statement. “Management and ownership is working with authorities and the University of Victoria to address those immediate concerns.”
The company added that “details are unclear at this point” and declined to answer further questions, saying it would release another statement once “confirmed details have been released.”
Wilson's Transportation is a charter bus company that serves Victoria and Vancouver Island, according to its website, and has been operating since 1962. It operates over 140 vehicles.
The university said it is providing counselling services to students who need the support.
The City of Port Alberni opened a reception centre for all the uninjured individuals.
Any family members wanting more information regarding this incident can call RCMP at 250-724-8980.
With files from The Canadian Press