British Columbia·Video

4 dead after Christmas Eve bus rollover on B.C. Highway 97C that left dozens injured

Four people are dead following the Christmas Eve bus rollover on B.C. Highway 97C that sent over 50 people to hospitals, RCMP confirmed Sunday afternoon.

As of Sunday afternoon, RCMP haven't ID'd people in the crash that sent over 50 to hospitals

A pickup truck with a flashing leftward arrow parked on a snowy highway. A sign next to it reads 'ACCIDENT SCENE'. Orange traffic cones are visible.
A major crash on the Okanagan Connector, or B.C. Highway 97C, sent over 50 people to hospitals Saturday evening. On Sunday, RCMP said four people have died. (Jay Bertagnolli/CBC)

Four people are dead following the Christmas Eve bus rollover on B.C. Highway 97C that sent over 50 people to hospitals, RCMP confirmed Sunday afternoon.

Word of the crash first came when DriveBC, the communications arm of the B.C. Ministry of Transportation, tweeted about a "vehicle incident" that shut the highway around 7 p.m. PT Saturday on the stretch of Highway 97C also called the Okanagan Connector, near the Loon Lake exit.

The local health-care authority, Interior Health, said in a statement Sunday that 52 people in total were sent to hospital as a result of the crash. Of those, 36 required treatment.

Interior Health said eight people were still in hospital early afternoon Christmas Day. Two of them were in serious condition, the authority's statement said.

B.C. RCMP said in a statement Sunday that it is believed the "extremely icy" road conditions along the highway caused the bus rollover, but an investigation into the exact cause continues and the driver is co-operating with police. RCMP did not identify the people who were on the bus, and said no further information was available Sunday afternoon.

The bus was operated by Ebus, an Alberta-based bus operator with multiple routes across B.C. The B.C. Highway Patrol said in a statement that the bus was travelling westbound when it went off the road and onto the left, and then rolled onto its side into the eastbound lane. No other vehicles were involved in the rollover, according to the Mounties.

"Although the number of patients remaining in hospital is low, these are life-altering incidents for all involved," Interior Health communications director Michaela Swan told CBC News. "There's the emotional and spiritual impacts of this accident. Those often go farther ... than just the individuals involved."

The majority of patients were seen at Kelowna General Hospital, according to Swan. In total, 18 crash victims were treated there, with nine patients transported to Merritt, six to Penticton, and three to Kamloops.

Highway 97C is 224 kilometres and runs east from Cache Creek in the central Interior to Kelowna in the Okanagan Valley, B.C.'s third largest metropolitan area.

According to DriveBC, the bus crash happened near the Loon Lake exit of the highway, which is 330 kilometres east of Vancouver and around 85 kilometres west of Kelowna.

WATCH | Multiple fatalities in B.C. bus rollover on Christmas Eve: 

4 dead after Christmas Eve bus rollover on B.C. Highway 97C

5 months ago
Duration 8:46
Four people are dead after the Christmas Eve bus rollover on B.C. Highway 97C that sent over 50 to hospitals, RCMP confirm Sunday afternoon.

Code Orange incident

Troy Clifford, provincial president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. union, said emergency responders had not seen an "extreme" crash like the one on Saturday in many years.

"It just adds [an] extra level of stress and pressure when it involved the holiday season," he said.

"This is a tragic, awful incident that will affect so many for so long," Clifford added, saying he was proud of the paramedics and emergency responders who jumped into action.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the incident prompted Interior Health to initiate a Code Orange response to provide emergency care. Code Orange is generally used to describe a mass casualty or disaster situation at hospitals.

Interior Health said Sunday morning on Twitter it has set up an information line for families to locate loved ones involved in the accident: 250-545-2211.

"My deepest gratitude to the first responders and medical teams who responded immediately to the call," Dix said in a statement.

The Conservative MP for the area, Dan Albas, expressed his condolences to the people injured in the crash through social media on Saturday, as did B.C. Premier David Eby.

DriveBC said the highway connecting Merritt and Kelowna was closed overnight between West Kelowna and Aspen Grove.

It reopened around 8:20 a.m. Christmas Day, according to DriveBC.

The crash comes after a week of winter storm warnings brought significant snow throughout B.C., including to the Southern Interior where the crash happened.

On Sunday, Environment Canada issued a freezing rain warning for the Okanagan Connector between Merritt and Kelowna. Freezing rain is expected to fall in the Southern Interior through Monday morning.

"This is a reminder to all of us that ... during these stormy conditions, things will change rapidly," Albas said. "I really hope that this [crash] is just explained by weather."

Bus operator says drivers trained for weather

John Stepovy, a director at Ebus, told CBC News that the bus in question was travelling from Kelowna to Vancouver. Stepovy said he did not have further information on the cause of the crash and Ebus was co-operating with RCMP investigators.

Stepovy said all Ebus drivers were "extensively trained" for winter conditions.

A snowy highway exit, with orange traffic cones and a sign that reads 'ACCIDENT SCENE'. A green 'EXIT' sign is visible in the background.
The passenger bus crash on Christmas Eve happened near the Loon Lake exit of B.C. Highway 97C, which is 330 kilometres east of Vancouver in the Southern Interior. (Jay Bertagnolli/CBC)

"We have a bus simulator, very similar to what airlines use for their pilots," he said. "[All Ebus drivers] go through simulator training, winter condition training."

Albas said Ebus is regulated by the B.C. Transit Authority, and he hoped there would be a full review into the cause of the crash.

With files from Jenifer Norwell