Devon Ernest cries every night for his girlfriend, Dionne Durocher. The 24-year-old was killed when a tour bus rolled over on the Columbia Icefield.
The Saskatchewan woman was on the tour with Ernest on the final day of the couple’s adventure through the mountains. They had stopped in Lake Louise and Banff on Durocher’s first time visiting the area.
Ernest suffered extensive injuries in the rollover, including a head wound, but said on Tuesday he’s in more emotional pain than physical.
“Every night I cry for my girlfriend,” Ernest said outside the Edmonton hospital he was airlifted to from the scene.
“I tell her, ‘I’m sorry, I love you, I wish I never brought you here.'”
Ernest said he believes the bus slid off the roadway that’s meant to take the passengers onto the glacier.
“We started going down a steep hill and I heard the front wheel slide off and the last I saw was the roof. Last thing I see now is flying to the roof,” Ernest said, adding he was knocked unconscious.
When he woke up, he was lying on the ground next to Durocher, who he said was having some trouble breathing.
Believing Durocher was OK, he went to check on his cousin who was on the bus with them.
“And when I went running back to my girlfriend, she had her eyes closed and she wasn’t breathing anymore,” Ernest said.
Ernest said he put his sweater under his girlfriend’s head and felt a large bump on the back of her head. He said first responders gave him a blanket which he wrapped himself and Durocher in and cuddled with her for a half hour until he was taken away for treatment.
“I knew she was gone,” he said. “She stopped breathing.”
The cause of the rollover is still under investigation. Witnesses have reported seeing a rockslide, however RCMP said on Monday there was no evidence of one at the scene.
The vehicle, known as an Ice Explorer and which came to a rest on its roof after rolling four to five times, was righted on Monday. Crews were back at the scene Tuesday working to get the bus off the icefield.
‘Are we just supposed to forgive and forget?’
Ernest said he wants to see the company which runs the tours, Pursuit, add more safety precautions so no one else falls victim to the tragedy he and his girlfriend’s family are now facing.
Ernest said when they got onto the glacier tour bus from the one that took them from the interpretation centre onto the icefield, the tour operator jokingly told everyone to put on their seatbelts, of which there were none.
“The operator said, ‘I got some of you,’ and she made a big grin and started laughing,” he said.
Ernest also said the operator told the group they’d be relying on the transmission to slow the bus down, before they started down the hill.
“Are they going to add seat belts? Are they going to add railings? Something to keep people in their spot if another rollover occurs?” he questioned.
Pursuit didn’t give any further comment on the incident Tuesday, but said on Monday it’s doing a fulsome review of what caused the rollover, and whether any safety protocols need to be implemented.
Ernest said Durocher’s family is in Edmonton to retrieve her body and take it home.
Ernest expects to be released from the hospital on Tuesday and along with recovering from his injuries, will be recovering from losing the woman he thought he’d spend the rest of his life with.
“I just miss my girlfriend so much,” he said.
— With files from Kirby Bourne, 630 CHED