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Jasper bus crash investigation likely to have 3 focuses, including road conditions: mechanical engineer

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As crews continue to work to get a heavily damaged glacier tour bus off the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park, a mechanical engineer is giving some insight into what the crash investigation will likely involve.

The motor coach, which was carrying 27 passengers up the icefield onto the Athabasca Glacier, rolled four to five times before landing on its roof on Saturday.

Three people were killed and the other 24 people injured — 14 passengers sustained critical injuries in the crash.

Read more: Crews working to remove tour bus involved in fatal Jasper rollover

Jason Young, president of Advantage Forensics, a forensic engineering firm in Toronto, said crews will likely be divided into three focuses: the mechanical condition of the bus, the condition of the roadway and the driver.

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Young said the bus — known as a Terra Bus Icefield Explorer — is a “specialized vehicle,” equipped with special tires, an air brake system and a specific suspension because it has six wheels, all of which will be carefully examined.

The group looking at the road conditions will be examining the “steep access road” to the glacier to determine if that was a factor in the rollover, Young said.

“It’s not your typical driveable road. It’s very unique, and as a result, it’s not going to be subject to the regular types of road design standards that exist in Alberta,” Young explained.

“It’s not going to be subject to the rules of slope or guardrails or signage or maintenance that apply to other roads, so they’ll have to look at… what condition the road was actually in.

“Was there deterioration of the surface in a major way that contributed to the vehicle leaving the road?”

Push for answers into tragic Alberta bus rollover
Push for answers into tragic Alberta bus rollover

Finally, investigators will be tasked with ruling out whether driver error could have contributed to the crash, including the hours of duty and a blood test to be sure the driver wasn’t impaired at the time.

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Witnesses have reported the tour bus picked up speed in the moments before the rollover, which Young said could point to a mechanical issue. He said vehicles like the one that crashed should have speed governors on them, typically limited at around 40 km/h.

“So [if] the vehicle is picking up speed and going beyond its limits, then they’ll have to look at that speed governor to make sure it was working, look at the brakes,” he said.

Read more: No evidence of rockslide in Jasper tour bus crash; ages and hometowns of victims released

Young said officials will also look at whether seatbelts, which aren’t required in the vehicle, should be installed in the buses. Witnesses and victims have reported that passengers were thrown from the bus when it rolled down the hill.

“Seatbelts are highly effective in rollover cases, in keeping people within the vehicle compartment within the vehicle itself. They’re highly effective at reducing fatalities and serious injuries,” Young said.

“The Transportation Safety Board is likely going to come up with some type of recommendation to start putting in seatbelts on tour buses that have a higher natural risk factor than other types of tours. This is not a regular road vehicle.”

According to Alberta Transportation spokesperson Mark Jacka, Parks Canada is responsible for the enforcement of off-road vehicles within the park, and they can’t be driven on the highways.

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“Snow coaches are uniquely designed off-highway vehicles and do not travel on highways as defined by the Traffic Safety Act, so they are not regulated under the act,” Jacka said.

‘I just miss my girlfriend so much’: partner of Jasper bus rollover victim shares grief
‘I just miss my girlfriend so much’: partner of Jasper bus rollover victim shares grief

Pursuit, the company that runs the tour bus and is responsible for maintenance, said the vehicles undergo regular maintenance in Jasper and any that need more extensive work are sent to Calgary for repairs.

According to Foremost, the manufacturer of current models of the Terra Bus, the motorcoach involved in the rollover was an older model, built by a different manufacturer in 1999.

Global News has reached out to Parks Canada for comment. This story will be updated when a response is received.