Nine years before fatal B.C. bus crash, Alberta teens were stranded on same remote road

Click to play video: 'Road safety questioned after fatal bus crash near Bamfield' Road safety questioned after fatal bus crash near Bamfield
WATCH: Questions are being raised about safety after two people died in a bus crash on the way to Bamfield Friday night. It's not the first serious crash on the remote logging road. Kristen Robinson has more. – Sep 14, 2019

The remote Vancouver Island logging road where a bus crash killed two university students Friday night saw a bus full of teens get stranded there nine years ago.

That’s prompting safety concerns about the road that leads to the Bamfield Marine Science Centre, where both groups had been heading to when their buses ran into trouble.

On Sept. 12, 2010, 10 Grade 12 students and two teachers from Edmonton’s private Tempo School arrived in Victoria and planned to take a floatplane that night to the centre, which sits on Vancouver Island’s west coast.

WATCH (Sept. 14, 2019): Bus full of university students crashes, killing two

Click to play video: 'Bus full of university students crashes, killing two' Bus full of university students crashes, killing two
Bus full of university students crashes, killing two – Sep 14, 2019

After heavy fog grounded the plane, the group hired a charter bus and set off for Bamfield.

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It would be more than 20 hours before anyone heard from the group.

It turned out the driver’s preferred route from Lake Cowichan was closed, sending him down an alternate route suggested by his GPS system: the narrow and winding logging road, where no cell service exists.

“It turned out that that road was in much worse shape, and we weren’t able to get all the way,” the driver, Brendan McCullough, told Global News days later.

READ MORE: 2 university students dead, 17 hurt following bus rollover on Vancouver Island

The road had been washed out by heavy rain, made worse by fallen debris. At one point, the driver, teachers and even some students cut down a tree blocking their path.

“We overcame a number of obstacles, but finally a culvert collapsed and we weren’t able to go any farther,” McCullough said.

By then, it was around 2:30 a.m. and the group ended up sleeping on the bus.

The next morning, McCullough hopped on his bike that he had stored on the bus and peddled 40 kilometres before finding a logging truck contractor.

READ MORE: School bus full of farm workers crashes into ditch in rural Abbotsford

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The contractor and his crew helped rebuild the culvert and got the bus turned back around to Lake Cowichan where they alerted RCMP that they were alive and well.

While McCullough was off looking for help, the students and teachers had foraged for food and water in the woods.

“The students were so brave, they weren’t scared or panicking,” said Cathryn Van Kessel, one of the teachers who survived the ordeal. “Everyone was calm.”

Safety concerns

Fast forward nine years later, and a similar situation involving a bus on the same road ended up with far more tragic consequences.

It’s not yet known what circumstances led to Friday’s fatal crash, which also happened at night.

Victoria-based charter bus company Wilson’s Transportation, which owns the bus, said its driver was experienced and had proper certification.

WATCH (Nov. 27, 2018): Secondary school students injured in bus crash near Cache Creek

Click to play video: 'Secondary school students injured in bus crash near Cache Creek' Secondary school students injured in bus crash near Cache Creek
Secondary school students injured in bus crash near Cache Creek – Nov 27, 2018

The driver has since been released from hospital after suffering non-life threatening injuries in the crash.

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“This is the first incident of this magnitude that we have ever experienced. We are all shocked by this,” the company said. “Rest assured that we are doing everything in our power to assist those affected.”

The bus had also recently passed all regulatory requirements and safety inspections, and was equipped with seatbelts, the company said.

READ MORE: School bus full of farm workers crashes into ditch in rural Abbotsford

Transport Canada and RCMP are investigating what led up to the crash, and would not release further information Saturday.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said it was unable to comment on who oversees the road.

Questions to the Ministry of Transportation about safety concerns for the road were not answered Saturday.

READ MORE: 3 taken to hospital after multi-vehicle crash near Fernie involving school bus

The Bamfield Marine Science Centre provides shuttle bus service through West Coast Trail Express to and from the centre, but all its trips take place during daylight hours.

Other shuttle services, including the Alberni Island Shuttle and Pachena Bay Express, are also listed on the centre’s website as providing service. Global News has reached out to both for comment.

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Wilson’s Transportation said it will be cooperating fully with the investigation into the crash.

—With files from Kristen Robinson, Catherine Urquhart and the Canadian Press

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