British Columbia

Bus carrying UVic students rolled off logging road after moving for oncoming Jeep: RCMP

A bus loaded with University of Victoria students moved over for an oncoming vehicle before it rolled off a logging road, killing two on board, a police crash analyst says.

2 students died after crash on Port Alberni-Bamfield road Sept. 13

A tow-truck crew removes the bus from an embankment on a logging road connecting Port Alberni and Bamfield, B.C., on Sept. 14. An RCMP crash analyst says the bus moved to avoid an oncoming Jeep before it rolled off the gravel road. Two students died in the crash. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

A bus loaded with University of Victoria students moved over for an oncoming vehicle before it rolled off a logging road, killing two on board, a police crash analyst says.

RCMP used a 3-D scanner and the event data recorder on the bus to piece together the crash in September, said Sgt. Brian Nightingale, a crash reconstructionist.

It was dark and raining on Sept. 13, when the bus was travelling on the gravel road between Port Alberni and Bamfield, B.C., Nightingale said in an interview on Tuesday.

When a Jeep came down a hill toward the bus, the driver pulled onto the soft shoulder just as the road narrowed, Nightingale said. 

The bus is hauled away from the crash site on Sept. 14. The bus rolled off the logging road after hitting the soft shoulder just as the road narrowed, coming to a rest about three metres below the road. (Dean Stoltz/CHEK News)

"He starts to pull to the right and at that precise moment, the roadway width decreases from 10.8 metres to 9.2 metres wide," he said.

"He still had enough room, but he makes his adjustment right at the same time when the road is narrowing and that's the bottom line right there."

The bus hit the soft shoulder, tipped and then rolled down the embankment onto its roof, resting about three metres below the road, Nightingale said. Thick trees along the road prevented the bus from going any further down the steep embankment, he said.

Forty-five students and two teaching assistants were on the bus going to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre on Vancouver Island's west coast. The crash happened about 40 kilometres from Port Alberni.

Two students died in the crash. Emma MacIntosh Machado of Winnipeg and John Geerdes of Iowa City, Iowa were both 18 years old.

After the crash, First Nations and the City of Port Alberni said there had been numerous complaints about the condition of the privately owned logging road. They called on the provincial government to improve the conditions on the 85-kilometre route.

The Bamfield Main gravel road connects Port Alberni and Bamfield, B.C. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Nightingale said there were no road markings but there's no indication that either vehicle was on the wrong side of the road.

He said the bus had been travelling at about 30 km/h along the road but just before the rollover the bus had slowed to 7 km/h.

Nightingale said the question of whether seatbelts were being worn did not form part of his investigation.

"The bus was equipped with seatbelts, seatbelts were available. Injuries are mitigated when seatbelts are being worn. That's always been my experience from Day 1.''

Search and rescue crews and RCMP help a tow-truck crew remove the bus from the ditch of a logging road on Sept. 14. Two University of Victoria students died and more than a dozen other people were injured after the bus rolled. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Nightingale said the report has been given to the BC Coroners Service as part of the police investigation but its findings don't determine any criminal or civil liability.

Andy Watson of the BC Coroners Service said its investigation into the two deaths remains open and it will allow other investigations into the crash to be completed before it concludes its probe.

He said the deaths don't meet the requirements for a mandatory inquest, although the chief coroner does have discretion for reasons of public interest or patterns in deaths to request one.


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