Three people are confirmed dead after a motor coach vehicle rolled over near the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre on Highway 93 Saturday afternoon.
Jasper RCMP said in a statement Saturday night that 27 people were on board the vehicle at the time of the crash.
“Three adults were confirmed deceased, along with a number of other passengers critically injured,” the statement said. “The injured were transported from the site of the rollover to the triage site by various helicopter companies contracted by Parks Canada.
Alberta Health Services said in a statement that several hospitals, including in Edmonton and Calgary, were being prepared for patients involved in the accident.
Jasper RCMP said multiple fire and EMS crews as well as a helicopter were called to the scene.
“Given the remote location, and the number of injured, Lake Louise and Jasper Fire Departments were dispatched, along with Parks Canada staff, and EMS from Jasper, Lake Louise and Banff,” RCMP said.
STARS Air Ambulance said all three of its bases from Calgary, Edmonton and Grande Prairie responded to the incident.
Jasper RCMP said the investigation into the cause of the rollover is continuing.
“At this time, no names are being released as next of kin notifications are currently underway,” RCMP said.
People were asked to stay away from the area to allow access for emergency responders. Highway 93 remains open, according to the RCMP.
Rob Kanty said he was on the same tour about an hour before the crash. He said he was in the parking lot of the Discovery Centre when he was asked by an employee to leave.
“They said there’s an incident on the glacier, so obviously right away we were like, ‘What’s going on?'” Kanty said. “So we got back in our vehicle, we were parked facing the glacier and you could still see dust.
“When we looked a little bit closer you could still see some rocks sliding down the hill, so we were like, ‘Oh, there was a rock slide,’ and then unfortunately when we looked a little bit closer we saw the rock slide also took out one of the snow coaches and it ended up landing on its roof at the bottom.”
Kanty said it was frightening to witness the coach vehicle rolled over, knowing of the potential injuries.
“You feel so bad for anyone on there because, I don’t know what the injuries may or may not be, but there are no seat belts and obviously those things have so much glass so if those things roll, which this one did, I’m sure it would not be good for anyone sitting in there,” he said.
RCMP said the investigation is in the preliminary stages and updates will be provided as they become available.
A spokesperson for the tour operator, Pursuit Collection, said the company will provide more information once it becomes available.
“Today at 2:09 pm there was an accident involving an Ice Explorer off road vehicle which overturned en route to the Athabasca Glacier. RCMP, Parks Canada, EMS and first responders are on scene,” Tanya Otis said in an email to Global News.
“We will provide additional details as they become available. Our immediate concern is with the injured and their families and we are supporting the efforts of first responders.”
Ice Explorers are described online as vehicles with “massive” low-pressure tires, capable of holding up to 56 passengers.
They operate both on and off the road, and have “extra large” windows on the top and the side.
The Columbia Icefield is described as the “largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies,” according to Parks Canada’s website.
The Athabasca Glacier is the “most-visited glacier” in North America, the site says.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney thanked emergency responders in a tweet.
“Saddened to hear of this accident in the Icefields,” he wrote. “Thanks to @STARSambulance, EMS, front-line health workers, and Parks Canada staff for their quick action and care in responding. Prayers for all involved in the incident.”
— With files by Global News reporters Kerri Breen, Maryam Shah