Two paramedics died early Tuesday after their vehicle went over a mountainous ravine and plunged into a frigid lake near the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The vehicle tumbled more than 200 feet down an embankment before it submerged in more than 20 feet of water in Kennedy Lake, between Ucluelet and Port Alberni, B.C.

The two paramedics, a man and woman, were on their way back to Tofino on Highway 4 after transferring a patient when their ambulance went off the mountainous road around 4:30 a.m. Kennedy Lake is located roughly 50 kilometres east of Tofino on Highway 4, a winding and often steep roadway with many blind curves.

"This tragedy solely involved two paramedics. [It] was returning from Port Alberni without a patient," said William (B.J.) Chute, spokesperson for the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C.

The pair died from injuries sustained in the crash. A dive team later recovered their bodies. Police say their identities will be released pending family notification.

Scrape marks were visible from the concrete embankment between the cliff and the highway where the vehicle appeared to veer off course.

In Pictures: Tragic ambulance accident

Piles of medical equipment and debris, including a spinal board, from the vehicle were visible along the shores of Kennedy Lake. The ambulance could be seen under the water's surface.

Search and rescue officials and a Cormorant helicopter began a search of the area after ambulance dispatch notified them the emergency crew was overdue.

A road worker then found debris at Kennedy Lake.

Chute said accidents like this are rare in their industry, but highlight the important role of paramedics.

"I think this tragedy highlights just the sacrifices that paramedics in this province make on a daily basis."

Representatives of the paramedics union flew to Tofino Tuesday afternoon to begin a formal investigation and meet the crews.

"This is a time where the union can reach out to our members, be there for them and the two paramedics' families," Chute said.

The president of the union representing B.C. paramedics says its hearts and minds go out to the families of the deceased.

"We will do our utmost to support them in any way we can, as well as to support the thousands of paramedics throughout B.C. who are severely shaken by this terrible loss of their colleagues and friends," John Strohmaier said in a statement issued to media Tuesday afternoon.

Strohmaier said the union will work closely with the RCMP and Worksafe BC investigators to determine the facts of the crash.

"Anything learned will guide us in ensuring this never happens again," he said.

The mayor of Ucluelet, about 50 kilometres west, said there have been plans in the works for several years to make that stretch of narrow road more secure.

Eric Russcher said municipal officers took up the matter with the transportation ministry at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Whistler last month.

The B.C. Ambulance Service says 10 British Columbian paramedics have died in the line of duty since 1988.