British Columbia

Students killed in Bamfield bus crash were teens from Manitoba and U.S.

The two University of Victoria students killed in a rollover bus crash between Port Alberni and Bamfield, B.C., on Friday night have been identified as teenagers from Manitoba and the United States.

John Geerdes and Emma Machado were both 18 years old

Emma Machado of Winnipeg and John Geerdes from Iowa, who were both 18 years old, were killed when a charter bus with 43 other students on board left a gravel road and went down an embankment between Port Alberni and Bamfield, B.C., on Sept. 13, 2019. (Submitted by Jose Fajardo/Submitted by Sam Machado)

The two University of Victoria students killed in a rollover bus crash between Port Alberni and Bamfield, B.C., on Friday night have been identified as teenagers from Manitoba and Iowa.

The Canadian woman has been identified as Emma Machado, who had recently moved to Victoria from her hometown of Winnipeg. The American man has been identified as John Geerdes by his high school soccer coach.

Both students were 18, the B.C. Coroners Service said in an emailed statement Monday.

Machado and Geerdes died at the scene after the bus crashed on the gravel logging road and flipped down an embankment late Friday. The UVic students were headed on an annual weekend field trip to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre. 

A Wilson's bus is hauled away from the crash site on Sept. 14 after two UVic students were killed when the vehicle rolled into a ravine on its way to Bamfield the evening before. (Dean Stoltz/CHEK News)

B.C. Emergency Health Services said 17 people were taken to hospital after the crash: two in critical condition, one in serious condition, and 14 others in stable condition. Around 30 more people were transported from the crash scene.

One student remained in hospital as of Sunday evening.

The Machado family are planning to travel to B.C. to collect Emma's body. She had moved to Victoria from Winnipeg to begin her first year of university two weeks before the crash.

"She was a strong, young woman who was just kind of hitting her stride," Ethel MacIntosh, Emma's mother, told CBC Manitoba. "She loved the idea of going to Victoria.

"We were devastated ... our lives will never be the same."

Sam Machado, Ethel MacIntosh, Emma Machado and Jose Machado pose for a photo at Emma's graduation. (Submitted by Sam Machado)

'He had a big heart'

Jose Fajardo coached Geerdes in soccer for three years at Iowa City High School and spoke to him on Sept. 2, two weeks before he had left for Canada.

In an interview with CBC, Fajardo said Geerdes wasn't the most talented player, but what he lacked in talent he made up for with his character in leaps and bounds.

"He never gave up … it was impossible for me to say no to him because of his commitment, his dedication, his hard work, his passion for doing what's right," Fajardo said.

Geerdes' coach describes him as a big man with a big heart whose hard work inspired others:

Former coach of bus crash victim: he had a big heart for everyone

3 years ago
Duration 1:57
Jose Fajardo coached John Geerdes, who died in a bus crash in Bamfield, B.C., for three years. Fajardo says Geerdes wasn't the most talented player, but his hard work, passion and ability to make everyone feel special made him a very likeable person.

"When I saw his human side, it connected all the dots. This is not just a person who wants to be special as a soccer player or academically. He's just special because he's special, period."

His team held a meeting Monday morning to talk about Geerdes' death and share their memories of him.

Fajardo texted Geerdes' mom the day he found out and offered his support. He believes the family is now in Canada to bring Geerdes' body back to Iowa.

John Geerdes, 18, has been identified as the male victim in a bus crash in Bamfield, B.C. that killed two people on Friday, September 13. (IC City High Mens Soccer)

Alcohol ruled out as factor in crash

On Monday, RCMP said a second driver who was driving in the area around the time the bus crashed remained at the scene and provided assistance to Mounties.

A statement from police said the cause of the crash remains under investigation, including whether the second driver played any role in the collision.

The gravel road that leads to Bamfield, B.C., on Sept. 14. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

RCMP said alcohol has been ruled out as a contributing factor.

"This incident is an absolute tragedy," RCMP Insp. Brian Hunter, detachment commander for the Port Alberni RCMP, wrote in the statement.

"On behalf of all our investigators, our deepest condolences go out to the families who have lost a loved one."

The 2001 Prevost bus was towed from the scene on Saturday. Most of its windows were shattered and its exterior blackened with dirt and mud.

Search and rescue crews and RCMP help a tow-truck crew to remove a bus from the ditch of a logging road near Bamfield, B.C., on Sept. 14, 2019. Two University of Victoria students died and more than a dozen other people were injured after a bus on its way to a marine research centre rolled over on a narrow gravel road on Vancouver Island on Friday. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Locals have long called for improvements to the logging road, saying the dangers have been apparent for decades.

The stretch of road has been described as rough and challenging, riddled with potholes and bits of gravel that can act like marbles under rubber wheels. There is no cellphone service along the road, which is the primary route in and out of the small community of Bamfield.

It was dark and pouring rain when the bus left the road on Friday.

"We in Bamfield have known for quite some time that the safety issue on that road is one of our prime concerns," said Chief Councillor Robert Dennis with the local Huu-ay-aht First Nations, who was one of the first to come across the crash site on Friday.

"I've been knocking on every Liberal government, every NDP government, to get our road fixed."

Huu-ay-aht First Nations's Robert Dennis describes what he saw when he arrived on scene:

Local chief councillor describes scene at bus crash site near Bamfield, B.C.

3 years ago
Duration 1:08
Chief Councillor Robert Dennis, with the local Huu-ay-aht First Nations, was one of the first people to come across the scene of a crash that killed two University of Victoria students on Sept. 13, 2019.

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said she's heard the concerns about the road.

"Ministry officials have been looking into the issue to determine if safety improvements could be made. The situation is complex as this is a private, industrial road, operated and maintained by private companies for active forestry operations," Trevena said in a written statement.

Bus equipped with seatbelts, company says

John Wilson, owner of Wilson's Transportation, confirmed its bus was the one involved in the crash. Wilson said the driver was experienced and had driver training certification. Wilson said the driver sustained non-life-threatening injuries and had been released from hospital.

A company statement said the bus was equipped with seatbelts, though it is not known how many onboard were wearing their belts at the time of the crash. B.C.'s Motor Vehicle Act requires all drivers and passengers to use seatbelts if the vehicle is equipped with them.

The RCMP and coroner's service are investigating the cause of the crash.

With files from Chad Pawson and Maryse Zeidler