On Saturday morning, Capt. David Burneau with the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre (JRCC) in Victoria said two passengers died on scene and another three with serious or critical injuries were airlifted to hospital in Victoria.
2 university students dead, 17 hurt following bus rollover on Vancouver Island
Burneau said the bus crashed on a gravel road near the Carmanah Main Junction, a few kilometres west of Francis Lake.
An employee who answered the phone Saturday declined to comment on the centres programs or why the students were travelling there, but according to its website it offers summer field courses, as well as a five-course fall semester program in marine sciences.
Two students killed after bus carrying University of Victoria students rolls over near Port Alberni
Denise Helm, the university's media relations director, said there were 45 UVic students and two teaching assistants on the bus. Helm said they were headed on a two-day field trip to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre.
B.C. Emergency Health Services said 17 people were taken to hospital — two people in critical condition, one person in serious condition, and 14 others in stable condition — and about another 30 were transported from the crash.
The road is more than 80 kilometres long and mostly gravel, said Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions. It was once mostly heavily used by logging companies, she said, but now its also frequented by tourists and people living in coastal communities.
Burneau said some passengers were treated at a reception centre opened by Port Alberni, a city with fewer than 20,000 residents. On Saturday, the students were taken back to Victoria on another bus.
Camylle Arsenault said she was supposed to be on the bus as part of the trip, but elected not to go at the last minute in favour of spending her weekend in Victoria. She said she was shocked when she heard about the accident.
"I couldn't believe what had happened," she said. "I feel just horrible for the families."
BCEHS and partner agencies responded to a call at 9:45pm last night for a bus down an embankment near Bamfield. 17 patients taken to hospital, including 2 in critical, 1 in serious and 14 others stable condition. Approx 30 more transported from the scene by bus.
By Saturday afternoon, University of Victoria provost Valerie Kuehne said one student is still in hospital. Kuehne also said the university is offering support services for students, staff and families.
Earlier in the day the university said on Twitter it is "deeply saddened" by the death of the students.
Barbara Hawkins, chair of the university's biology department, said the crash was a "terrible tragedy."
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.
It issued a written statement confirming that one of its buses was involved and later held a news conference.
An employee who answered the phone Saturday declined to comment on the centres programs or why the students were travelling there, but according to its website it offers summer field courses, as well as a five-course fall semester program in marine sciences. It also hosts students on field trips.
2 UVic students dead, several seriously injured in Vancouver Island bus rollover
Owner John Wilson said the driver was experienced and had driver training certification. Wilson said the driver sustained non-life-threatening injuries and was released from hospital.
"We do not know what caused the incident at this time, we are co-operating fully and working with the RCMP and all those involved to help in whatever way we can," he said.
Wilson also said the bus — a 2001 Prevost XL 2 — had recently passed a safety inspection and was equipped with seatbelts.
Chief Councillor Robert Dennis, with the Huu-ay-aht First Nations in Bamfield and the surrounding area, said he and his wife came across the crash about 30 minutes after it happened.
“This is the first incident of this magnitude that we have ever experienced. We are all shocked by this,” the company said. “Rest assured that we are doing everything in our power to assist those affected.”
The bus was on its side nearly 10 metres down an embankment when he arrived, and students were pulling themselves up to the road with a rope.
"It's frightening," Dennis said. "We in Bamfield have known for quite some time that the safety issue on that road is one of our prime concerns."
Dennis said the first couple who came across the accident would have had to drive 45 minutes before reaching paramedics by phone. He said it took two hours for ambulances to arrive.
Other shuttle services, including the Alberni Island Shuttle and Pachena Bay Express, are also listed on the centre’s website as providing service. Global News has reached out to both for comment.
VIDEO: Two killed on Vancouver Island after bus crashes carrying university students
Wes Patterson, the deputy fire chief for the Port Alberni Fire Department, said people were still trapped in the bus when firefighters arrived.
“The students were so brave, they weren’t scared or panicking,” said Cathryn Van Kessel, one of the teachers who survived the ordeal. “Everyone was calm.”
"It was dark, it was rainy," he said. "The road is fairly rough, it's a gravel industrial road and so it takes a little bit more time to get out there."
Two university students killed in bus crash near Port Alberni
There is no cellphone service on that stretch of the road, which is the primary route people use to get in and out of the small community of Bamfield, Dennis said.
It had been raining on and off that night, he said, and conditions on the narrow, gravel logging road aren't great at the best of times.
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"I've been knocking on every Liberal government, every NDP government, to get our road fixed," he said.
Port Alberni Chief Administrative Officer Tim Pley said the students on the bus who weren't injured were placed in hotels in Port Alberni for the night.
Robert Dennis, Chief Councillor of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, witnessed the aftermath of Friday’s crash. He and his wife helped the passengers with water and lighting while another couple drove to nearby Pachena Bay to call 911.
Sharie Minions, mayor of Port Alberni, said she is "really proud" of how city staff and others in the community stepped up to help.
They quickly opened an emergency centre, Minions said, and were able to feed the passengers and keep them warm. Later staff also helped the students get in touch with their families.
"It's a horrific accident," she said, adding that the city supports First Nation demands to have the road improved and better maintained.
Later Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau posted a message on Twitter offering his condolences to the victims and their families.
My thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the students whose lives were taken too soon in last night's bus crash on Vancouver Island – and Im wishing all those injured a full recovery.
Earlier reports said the two passengers who died were airlifted to hospital, but Burneau later said it was the seriously injured passengers who were.
The JRCC deployed two helicopters and a search and rescue aircraft from Canadian Forces Base Comox to airlift patients from the scene.
The provincial government said that Transport Canada and RCMP Vancouver Island Traffic Services are investigating the crash.
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