Watch: Aalia Adam reports from Elizabethtown on the Quebec tour bus accident
MONTREAL — New York State police have confirmed that a 14-year-old girl was killed on Friday in what officials have described as a “mass casualty” incident.
Police confirmed that Chelssy Mercier was travelling with her mother from Quebec on a tour bus to New York on Friday morning, when it left the highway near the town of North Hudson at around 8 a.m.
When officials arrived at the scene, they found the victim partially ejected from the bus, which had then come to rest on top of her.
Witnesses worked tirelessly with police officers to help save the teenager, using jack stands to lift the vehicle and try to remove her from beneath the bus.
Although emergency response teams fought valiantly to revive her, even using an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) as part of the lifesaving efforts, Mercier succumbed to her injuries.
Families concerned about passengers are asked to call the emergency hotline: 1-800-606-5499.
The emergency services director in Essex County told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that the bus was filled with college-aged students and relatives, noting that several people trapped inside the bus had to be removed by emergency personnel.
“I’m sure a lot of them crawled through the top hatches because the bus was on its side,” Don Jaquish said.
All 55 tour bus passengers, ranging from 6 to 54 years of age, as well as the 61-year-old driver, were transported to local hospitals to be treated for their injuries.
Essex County emergency medical services coordinator Patty Bashaw said that 41 people were considered “walking wounded” patients, 10 were injured, although not critically, and three were considered “red category” and required immediate transport to a medical centre.
Watch: New York State police provide update on Quebec bus crash
Cause of the crash
The cause of the crash is still under investigation.
The tour bus was travelling south on Interstate 87, also known as the Adirondack Northway, when, according to the New York State police, it veered off the shoulder of the highway and into the median between exits 29 and 30, about 200 kilometres south of Montreal.
Although he was not identified, New York State police confirmed that the 61-year-old driver was a Canadian citizen and has been inspected as a driver three times in the past year and passed all three inspections.
Watch: Video from the scene of a Quebec tour bus accident
“There is currently no reason to believe he had a problem with his driving credentials,” police noted in a statement.
The RCMP and Quebec provincial police, along with multiple fire and rescue agencies from Essex County helped the New York State police at the scene of the accident.
Quebec’s premier, Philippe Couillard, said that representatives from the Ministry of International Relations and La Francophonie were also at the site of the crash in upstate New York.
Officers from the Surete du Quebec, Quebec’s provincial police force, were also at the scene, to help facilitate collaboration between local authorities, the RCMP and passengers.
After investigators have reconstructed the accident, the 2008 bus is expected to be impounded and taken to police headquarters in Ray Brook.
The American National Transportation Security Board and New York State Transportation Safety Board have been notified of the accident.
Canada’s Prime Minister expressed his condolences and concern, tweeting, “We’re keeping those affected by this unfortunate collision in our thoughts and prayers.”
Community comes together to help
The 55 injured passengers were transferred to three local area hospitals: Glens Falls Hospital, Glens Falls, NY; Fletcher Allen Health Care Medical Center, Burlington, VT and Elizabethtown Community Hospital, Elizabethtown, NY.
Jane Hooper is the director of community relations at Elizabethtown Community Hospital, where the majority of passengers were being treated.
She told Global News that approximately 30 to 35 passengers were being cared for at the tiny critical-care centre that serves a 600-square-mile area.
The centre mobilized a team of volunteers, physicians, nurses, assistants and volunteer translators, who all come in to help at a moment’s notice.
“Although many patients spoke English well, we brought in six or seven French-speaking volunteers,” Hooper said.
“We want people to be as comfortable as possible.”
She said that the centre treated many of those injured in the tragic bus accident in 2006, which took the lives of five passengers, three of them from Canada.
A spokesperson at the Fletcher Allen Health Care Medical Center told Global News that one passenger was currently being evaluated at its hospital.
“One person came here by helicopter from the scene of the accident.”
A spokesperson from Glens Falls Hospital confirmed to Global News that nine passengers were currently being treated at that hospital.
“Once we heard that they were coming, we were ready,” said Darlene Raynsford.
Tour company reaction
The tour bus operator JaimonVoyage.com subcontracted the charter bus from a company based in Quebec City called Autobus Fleur de Lys.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, the tour operator’s marketing director Nancy Trudel said the bus picked up travellers in Quebec City, Trois-Rivieres and Longueuil overnight.
“For us, our priority is the passengers,” Trudel said.
“But we don’t know what happened or how the accident occurred.”
Bus accident waiting to happen?
According to an investigation by the American National Traffic Safety Board, driver-related problems were responsible for 60 per cent of bus crash fatalities between 1998 and 2008, and the number one cause of fatal bus accidents was driver fatigue.
Driver fatigue: 36%
Vehicle condition: 20%
Driver medical condition: 18%
Recognition, not driver fault: 11%
Road conditions: 2%
Although there has been no confirmation that driver fatigue was the cause of this accident, Larry Hanley, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) that represents Greyhound bus drivers in North America, told Global News that bus safety and driver fatigue were a serious cause for concern.
“If people could pay a few extra dollars to make sure that they have a driver or pilot that was refreshed and has gotten a good night’s sleep and has a decent economic environment to live and work in, I think they would. But they’re not given that choice.”
He suggested that deregulation and vicious competition between bus companies may be causing a decline in safety standards.
Listen to clips from the interview here:
“Passengers may be getting cheap tickets and discount drivers but they’re paying with their lives.”
– With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press