British Columbia

7 passengers from fatal Christmas Eve bus crash in B.C. still hospitalized but expected to survive

Seven patients are still in hospital following a Christmas Eve bus accident that killed four. Ebus, the Alberta-based bus operator involved in the crash, is expected to resume operations on Dec. 27.

Bus operator says services on British Columbia routes to resume on Tuesday

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)

All of the remaining patients in hospital from a deadly Christmas Eve bus crash on Highway 97C in B.C. are expected to survive, according to an Interior Health official.

Michaela Swan, a spokesperson for the health authority, said seven people who were brought to three hospitals after a passenger bus rolled on the Highway 97C, also called the Okanagan Connector, on Saturday evening are still patients, down from eight on Sunday.

All seven have non-life threatening issues, after two patients previously listed as having serious conditions improved, Swan said on Monday.

Four people died and dozens of others were injured in the Ebus crash east of Merritt near the Loon Lake exit, which police said they suspect was caused by extremely icy road conditions.

Ebus cancelled all B.C. trips following the bus rollover that sent more than 50 people to hospitals. 

No one from Ebus, the Alberta-based bus operator with multiple routes across B.C., was immediately available to comment on Monday. In a statement to CBC News, Ebus confirmed that B.C. services were suspended Dec. 26, due to poor weather and road conditions. Ebus said customers will be refunded for their tickets within 72 hours. 

The company's Facebook page said its services will resume on Tuesday, Dec. 27.

Health-care response

Swan said she doesn't know how many health-care staff were called in to deal with the crash, but that many came in without being asked when they heard of the news. 

"What we did hear from the front line was just that initial heart-sinking feeling when you hear about this accident and the impacts to those potential patients and their families,'' Swan said.

"It actually caused Interior health staff and physicians just to respond to the sites knowing you're going to need all hands on deck.''

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, has sent 53 people to hospital. The highway was closed overnight. (Jay Bertagnolli/CBC)

Christmas Eve 'tragedy'

On Sunday, RCMP confirmed that four people had died in the accident that involved no other vehicles. Police have not released the names of those who died.

As a result of the crash, Interior Health said in a statement Sunday that 52 people were sent to hospitals, of which 36 patients required medical treatment.

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

RCMP said Monday afternoon they were facing issues identifying all passengers who were on the bus. Due to the urgency of the situation, victims were transported to local hospitals and police said many left before they could be identified. While records of those who pre-booked tickets were available, the names of those who booked and boarded the bus at the time of departure have been difficult to confirm.

According to police, there were international tourists on the bus who are now trying to get their luggage back to leave the country. Police said they are working with Ebus to get them their luggage.

The bus, travelling from Kelowna to Vancouver, went off the road and rolled onto the passenger side of Highway 97C also called the Okanagan Connector, near the Loon Lake exit, which is 330 kilometres east of Vancouver in the Southern Interior. 

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said in a statement Monday afternoon that a crew of maintenance workers on the ground monitored highway conditions and spent all day Saturday plowing, salting and sanding the Connector. 

"They reported winter driving conditions, and a nearby weather station indicated low precipitation," the statement read.

DriveBC, the communications arm of the B.C. Ministry of Transportation, reported a 'vehicle incident' around 7 p.m. PT Saturday and shut the highway between West Kelowna and Aspen Grove.

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

Police said in a statement Sunday that the bus rollover is believed to have been caused by "extremely" icy road conditions, although an investigation into the exact cause continues.

A week of winter storm warnings brought significant snow, along with avalanche risk advisories and highway closures throughout the province. 

On Sunday, Environment Canada issued a freezing rain warning for the Okanagan Connector between Merritt and Kelowna that lasted until Monday afternoon. 

Ebus announced through its social media page that its services will resume Tuesday, Dec. 27.

With files from Canadian Press