Two people are confirmed dead and several more are injured following a bus crash on Vancouver Island, most of them university students.
Port Alberni RCMP said the crash happened 40 kilometres south of the city down a remote industrial logging road just before 9:30 p.m Friday.
Police were alerted to the crash after a call from a satellite phone registered to the University of Victoria.
Const. Doug Pennington with Central Vancouver Island Traffic Services said the bus had 48 people on board including the driver when it went down an embankment and rolled over east of Bamfield.
“They were southbound, went off-road right. Two are deceased,” Pennington said. “The rest have been transported back to Port Alberni with various degrees of injuries.”
WATCH: Bus full of university students crashes, killing two
BC Emergency Health Services (EHS) said paramedics responded around 9:45 p.m. and transported 17 patients to hospital, including two in critical condition and one in serious condition. The rest are said to be in stable condition.
The driver was among those taken to hospital, the bus company confirmed.
Thirty more passengers were taken from the scene on another bus, EHS said.
The two deceased were pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Port Alberni Fire Department and RCMP.
Both were among a group of students from the University of Victoria on their way to the Bamfield Marine Science Centre, the university’s president Jamie Cassels confirmed in a statement.
“We are deeply saddened by the death of two University of Victoria students last night,” Cassels said. “Our heartfelt thoughts go out to the students’ families and loved ones, to whom we offer our sincerest condolences. We also thinking of those injured in the crash.”
Cassels added counseling and other supports are being provided to students, professors and staff affected by the crash.
University spokesperson Valerie Kuehne said Saturday 45 students and two teaching assistants were heading to the science centre for a two-day field trip collecting marine samples and conducting lab work.
“We understand right now one person remains in hospital,” she said.
Kuehne could not speak to why the bus was travelling down the logging road at night, when heavy rain reportedly created poor driving conditions.
RCMP along with several ambulances, firefighters and helicopters attended the scene. A community centre in Port Alberni was set up for crash victims who were not injured.
A crash reconstruction team have the road closed to investigate along with the BC Coroners Service. It was originally scheduled to reopen around 11 a.m. but remained closed well into the afternoon
“The bus is about 20 metres down the embankment,” Pennington confirmed.
The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre had tasked two Cormorant helicopters and one Buffalo SAR aircraft from 442 Squadron in Comox to assist with the rescue.
The Port Alberni Fire Department said its members’ “hearts are heavy” while praising the work of their fellow first responders.
In a statement, Victoria-based charter bus company Wilson’s Transportation said it owned the bus involved in the accident.
“Our immediate concern is with the passengers, the driver and their families,” the company said. “Management and ownership is working with authorities and the University of Victoria to address those immediate concerns.”
The company said the driver, who suffered non-life threatening injuries and has been released from hospital, was experienced and had proper certification.
The bus had also recently passed all regulatory requirements and safety inspections, and was equipped with seatbelts.
Premier John Horgan also posted his condolences to the families on social media, saying he was “heartbroken” over the news.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also commented on the incident, along with several Vancouver Island federal candidates.