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4 dead, multiple people injured in B.C. bus crash on Christmas Eve: RCMP

Click to play video: 'Four dead, multiple others injured in Ebus rollover on Okanagan Connector'
Four dead, multiple others injured in Ebus rollover on Okanagan Connector
Four people are dead and multiple others injured after a Christmas Eve tragedy on Highway 97C between Kelowna and Merritt. As Kristen Robinson reports, a Vancouver-bound Ebus carrying dozens of passengers rolled over on what RCMP say was an extremely icy stretch of road. – Dec 25, 2022

UPDATE: In a tragic announcement on Christmas Day, RCMP say multiple people died in Saturday night’s bus crash along Highway 97C in B.C.’s Southern Interior.

According to police, the single-vehicle crash on Christmas Eve happened shortly after 6 p.m., east of Merritt, near the Loon Lake exit.

“Four people are confirmed deceased and multiple people have sustained injuries,” police said shortly after noon on Sunday.

“While the investigation is ongoing, it is believed that extremely icy road conditions caused the rollover. No further information is available at this time.”

The westbound bus was travelling from Kelowna to Vancouver.

A photo of the bus on its side. Submitted
Click to play video: 'Bus crash near Merritt sends at least 50 people to hospital'
Bus crash near Merritt sends at least 50 people to hospital

Later Sunday, RCMP issued another update, stating that “road conditions were described as very poor with ice and snow on the road surface along with rain and hail falling.”

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Police say collision reconstructionists attended the scene, as did the B.C. Coroners Service, adding the bus left the road and rolled onto its passenger side, coming to rest in the eastbound lanes.

“We are attempting to complete next-of-kin notifications and will not be providing any further details about the deceased at this time,” said police.

When RCMP released their first update on Sunday, Interior Health (IHA) issued an update at the same time, with the regional health authority saying 52 patients were transported to four area hospitals.

Of the 52, IHA said 36 patients were assessed and treated for injuries that ranged from serious to minor.

Click to play video: 'Province warns against non-essential travel'
Province warns against non-essential travel

“As of 9:30 a.m., today, eight patients remained in the care of hospitals in Penticton, Kelowna and Kamloops,” said IHA’s update.

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“For those remaining in hospital, two are in serious condition and two have non-life threatening injuries.”

A phone line was set up on Saturday night for those seeking information on family members involved in the crash.

That number is 250-545-2211.

“Although the number of patients remaining in hospital is low, this is a life-altering incident for all involved, from the initial physical injuries to the emotional and spiritual impacts of an incident such as this,” continued the update.

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“Our thoughts are with the families and patients, as well as the many first responders at the scene, who were impacted by this tragic incident.

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“Our deep gratitude to the many Interior Health staff and physicians already working or who came into the hospitals to help care for the high number of patients who needed immediate care.”

Interior Health’s update did not mention any fatalities.

Global News also reached out to the bus company, Ebus, which said there were 47 people on board — 46 passengers and one driver — a different number than the 52 IHA said.

Ebus said its drivers are fully trained for winter conditions.

RCMP said no other vehicles were involved in the rollover, and were unable to explain the discrepancy in numbers between IHA and Ebus.

“The exact number of passengers has yet to be confirmed,” said RCMP. “However, approximately 53 patients were transported to local hospitals in Kamloops, Kelowna and Penticton.

“We are currently in the process of locating and speaking with them. Due to the exigent circumstances and injuries, many were transported to local hospitals prior to police having the chance to identify them at the scene. The driver of the bus is cooperating with police.”

Click to play video: 'Albertans travelling highways over holidays could face treacherous roads'
Albertans travelling highways over holidays could face treacherous roads

Debbie Mitchell drove by the crash shortly after it happened and told Global News she wonders why the highway wasn’t closed.

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“My honest opinion, and we drive B.C. roads a lot, from the Okanagan to up north, it should have been closed in those conditions,” she said.

“It’s very unfortunate it took an accident of this magnitude to close it.”

The Ministry of Transportation said in a statement that “the incident is under active investigation by the RCMP, and the ministry is unable to provide further comment at this time.”

“The roads, I believe, were the biggest factor,” Mitchell added. “They were cleared right off to the pavement with no sand yet, and the road and corner were covered in ice, from what we could see.”

“We saw two plows going opposite directions, but further down the highway from the incident and we were getting freezing rain mixed with snow. There was no traction in a lot of areas.”

Click to play video: '‘War with mother nature’: At least 7 dead in Buffalo as New York latest hit by monster winter storm'
‘War with mother nature’: At least 7 dead in Buffalo as New York latest hit by monster winter storm

On Sunday afternoon, Ebus released a statement.

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“I would like to extend our deepest condolences to families and loved ones so heavily impacted by this tragic event last night,” said president and chief operating officer Tom Jezersek.

“Our thoughts and sympathy are with those injured and grieving at this time. We will continue cooperating with RCMP in their investigation and communicate information when able.

“Thank you to the first responders, health care workers and everyone providing support.”

Police said if you witnessed the collision, or have dash-cam video of the bus prior to the collision, please contact your local RCMP detachment.

— More to come.

 

ORIGINAL STORY

A bus crash on Highway 97C in B.C.’s Interior on Christmas Eve has sent 53 people to three area hospitals.

It’s unclear at this time exactly what happened, but Interior Health has initiated a Code Orange response for the incident near Merritt, which means a disaster or mass casualties.

B.C. RCMP issued a statement around 8:20 p.m., confirming the accident, saying it was a passenger bus and that the highway had been closed to traffic.

It is unknown at this time if there are any fatalities, with Interior Health stating “we are not in a position to provide patient conditions at this time.”

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“No further information is available at this time,” police said. “Updates will be provided once more information becomes available.”

Medical teams are currently receiving the patients at hospitals in Kelowna, Penticton, and Merritt.

Interior Health said, “we will make every effort to connect families with patients as soon as possible.”

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In a Twitter post at 8:21 p.m., B.C. Emergency Health Services said the crash took place near the Loon Lake exit, adding that multiple ground units were on scene and that more were on the way

Click to play video: 'Bamfield bus crash report released'
Bamfield bus crash report released

The highway, between the Aspen Grove junction and Peachland, was immediately closed to traffic, and stayed that way overnight. On Sunday morning, around 8:15 a.m., DriveBC announced that the highway had been reopened to traffic.

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Also Sunday morning, Interior Health tweeted that an information line has been set up for families to locate their loved ones.

On Christmas Eve, Just before 10 p.m., the province released a statement from Premier David Eby, public safety minister Mike Farnworth, health minister Adrian Dix, and transportation minister Rob Fleming.

“On this Christmas Eve we are shocked and saddened to hear of the serious bus accident on the Highway 97C Okanagan Connector between Merritt and Kelowna,” said the statement.

“Our thoughts are with those impacted by the crash, their loved ones, and the first responders and healthcare workers giving their all to treat people and keep them safe.”

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