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3 dead, 24 injured in Columbia Icefields bus rollover

Last Updated Jul 19, 2020 at 4:27 pm PST

Summary

There were 27 passengers on the vehicle when it crashed, three people dies and others were critically injured

Numerous fire departments, EMS, STARS Air Ambulance and Parks Canada were sent to the scene

There's no word yet on what caused the crash, but at least one witness suggested it was a rock slide

JASPER, Alta. — RCMP say three passengers were killed when a glacier sightseeing bus rolled over at one of the most popular attractions in the Rocky Mountains, the Columbia Icefields.

Cpl. Leigh Drinkwater says there were a total of 27 passengers on the vehicle when it crashed.

In addition to the three deaths, 14 people suffered life-threatening injuries and 10 other people on the bus are hurt.

Drinkwater says getting updates from the scene is difficult due to unreliable cellular service in the mountains, but he says the ice explorer apparently rolled, and that critically injured patients were taken to Calgary by air and ground ambulances.

The iconic red and white coaches, which look like buses with monster-truck tires, regularly take tourists up a rough road onto the Athabasca Glacier.

Tanya Otis, a spokeswoman for Pursuit, the company that runs the ice explorers, says one of the off-road vehicles overturned early in the afternoon on its way to the Athabasca Glacier and that the company is supporting the efforts of first responders.

STARS air ambulance spokeswoman Fatima Khawaja says it sent choppers from its bases in Edmonton, Calgary and Grande Prairie.

Rob Kanty and his family were in the parking lot at 1:30 p.m. after completing a tour of the Columbia Icefield when they were told they had to leave immediately.

“We were asked all of a sudden to leave,” he says.

“We got back in our car, we took a look up the glacier and I could still see the dust and the rocks sliding. So right away we knew there was a rockslide on part of the road that goes up to the glacier. Then, unfortunately after looking a little bit further we could see one of the coaches had rolled down from the rockslide and was sitting on its roof at the bottom of the rockslide. There’s rocks on either side of you, you’re on the side of the mountain so definitely the rock slide would have pretty much hit the side of the snow coach and pushed the snow coach off the road and down an embankment towards the bottom.”

Kanty says each coach holds about 20 people due to reduced capacity to facilitate social distancing and notes there are no seatbelts.

“They’re beautiful machines, but they’re all windows, all glass, have very high centre of gravity. So, unfortunately, if that thing ever tips over like it did it’d be pretty tough on the people inside for sure.”

He says the slide stranded two other buses, and it looked to him like those passengers were being airlifted out.

Kanty and his family are from Edmonton and the tour was part of a weekend vacation.

“It easily could have been us, it’s unfortunate that it happened to anybody, and I just hope everyone is okay,” he told NEWS 1130 Saturday afternoon before information on casualties and injuries was released.

With files from Kareem Gouda