British Columbia

Bus dodges massive rock slide on B.C. coastal highway

The driver and a passenger on board an express airport bus from Vancouver to Whistler narrowly escaped being crushed by a massive rockfall that crashed onto the Sea to Sky Highway just before midnight Tuesday night.

'I can't believe I am alive,' says passenger after bus evades rockfall by seconds

A massive rock slide blocks the Sea to Sky Highway near Porteau Cove, B.C., on Wednesday, after a cliff face collapsed onto the highway late Tuesday night. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The driver and a passenger on an express airport bus from Vancouver to Whistler narrowly escaped being crushed by a massive rockfall that crashed onto the Sea to Sky Highway just before midnight Tuesday night.

The pair told CBC News on Wednesday that they were talking about death moments before the rock slide, joking that people don't really live until they have a near-death experience.

Luis Araujo says as the bus he was on passed under the slide, it began shaking and there was a huge bang followed by a hail of rocks that smashed the windows on one side of the bus. ((CBC))

Passenger Luis Araujo told CBC News he was heading home to Whistler on the Perimeter Whistler Express airport bus when he and the driver heard "a massive thunder sound."

They didn't know it at the time, but the two were just below a massive rock slide about half a kilometre north of Porteau Cove between Furry Creek and Lions Bay.

Araujo said the bus began shaking and there was a huge bang, followed by a hail of rocks that smashed the windows on one side of the bus.

"Fortunately the driver keep going, even though the whole thing was rocking," Araujo said.

A bus was hammered by falling rock and narrowly escaped being crushed by the rock slide, passenger Luis Araujo says. ((Submitted by Luis Araujo))

Peter Skeels, the driver, said he just kept his foot on the gas. He didn't see what had happened to the bus until he pulled over about 15 minutes later to call the RCMP.

When the two got out to inspect the damage, they saw the windows on one side of the bus had been smashed and parts of the trim torn off.

"It [the rock slide] was so loud that the windows that were smashed in the vehicle … you did not hear them smash," Skeels said Wednesday.

Shuttle bus driver Peter Skeels says the noise of the rock slide was so loud he didn't hear the windows of his bus being smashed. ((CBC))

"We were so nervous we just laughed. We really just missed it by a few seconds. I can't believe I am alive, really," said Araujo.

The Whistler resident said he did not believe any other vehicles were caught in the slide, because the bus was alone on the dark stretch of highway.

The RCMP have also said they do not believe anyone was buried under the rock, which covers the highway more than 10 metres deep along a 100-metres stretch, by some estimates.

An estimated 16,000 cubic metres of rock fell onto the highway, the only direct route between Whistler and Vancouver.

Highway expected to close for 5 days

B.C. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon said on Wednesday it could take five days to reopen the highway.

The cause of the rock slide has not yet been determined but geotechnical engineers believe a long period of hot, dry weather followed by rain in the last two days triggered the natural disaster, Falcon said.

The highway has been undergoing extensive widening and upgrading at a cost of $600 million in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, but an official with the Transportation Ministry said there was no construction underway in the immediate area of the slide.

To reach Whistler from Vancouver, drivers will have a long detour east on the Trans-Canada Highway to Lytton, then north on Highway 12 to Lillooet, and then south on Highway 99 through Pemberton to Whistler.

The Porteau Cove section of the highway has been closed several times by slides, including closures in 1959, 1960, 1969 and 1982. More recently, in February 2007, the highway was closed for seven hours by a rock slide in another area just north of Horseshoe Bay.