Police have little doubt a trucker would have been killed if he hadn’t been pulled to safety by a Good Samaritan, RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said Thursday.
While investigators are still looking into all the factors around a pileup of vehicles on the Coquihalla during a severe snowstorm Wednesday evening, they have put some links in the chain.
Investigators have sorted out that a semi transport truck went partly off the road and was rear-ended by a Ford Explorer. A tour bus then slid into the side of the semi and struck the truck’s driver, who was on the road surveying the damage.
Another driver not involved with the collision was hurt when he stopped to help. He saw the trucker hit by the bus and was dragging him off the road when the two of them were knocked down from the chain reaction of a second semi — a logging rig — colliding with the Explorer.
That driver was still able to tend to the trucker after he got them over the road barrier, out of harm’s way.
“This person showed great bravery in risking his own safety to help the trucker,” Moskaluk said.
Those who dealt with the injured said Thursday everything went well, especially given the number of people involved.
The sun was long gone and the north end of the Coquihalla highway was dark when a Canada West coach loaded with 30 people was heading home to Kamloops. The passengers were ending a four-day Sun Fun tour to Tulalip, Wash., where they shopped at outlet stores and played in the casino.
Just 12 kilometres from home, the bus ran into an isolated snowstorm that dumped more than 20 centimetres of heavy wet flakes onto the highway, turning the surface to slush that quickly became packed into ice.
RCMP are still investigating exactly how the collision occurred. A semi tractor trailer slid into a concrete barricade on the side of the highway, and a chain reaction followed with the bus, a second semi and two other passenger vehicles.
The 30 passengers — most of them seniors — and driver were trapped inside the bus until fire and rescue workers could get them out through the windshield.
Eight ambulances rushed to the scene as quickly as they could, given the treacherous road conditions.
Everyone from the bus was taken to hospital to be checked over and treated. Most were fine, a few had cuts and bruises and all were released to go home, Stacey Spencer, vice-president of sales and operations for Canada West, said Thursday.
The driver of the first semi was also taken to hospital with severe injuries and has been listed in stable condition, she said. RCMP later reported the 36-year-old Surrey man suffered serious multiple fractures to his pelvis and legs. He was sent to the Lower Mainland for further treatment.
“Safety is top priority with our companies. Nothing with the coach maintenance had anything to do with the situation,” she said.
“We’ve been in the industry for 31 years and we’ve never had anything had anything like this happen.”
The bus had new winter tires and the driver was a professional with several years experience with the company.
“I had heard there was an incident that occurred just prior (to the bus colliding). I don’t have the police report yet. The driver, from my understanding, did everything he could to avoid the accident.”
Spencer and another Canada West employee got to the crash scene as quickly as possible. They returned in an auxiliary ambulance with some of the passengers and had luggage taken to the hospital where passengers, once treated, were put into taxis to get home.
Inside the Royal Inland Hospital emergency room, procedures to deal with a flood of trauma patients kicked into gear.
“It was like a scene from Gray’s Anatomy,” said Spencer. “They did vitals and everything on the auxiliary ambulance.”
The timing of the major-scale accident was fortunate. Hospital administrator Marg Brown said it happened at about 6:30 p.m., just before the 7 p.m. shift change. She was able to ask some staff to stay on until they knew what the Code Orange call meant.
“We asked them to stay until we could get a better picture of the extent of injuries and numbers coming in,” she said.
A few extra doctors and nurses were called in and some intensive-care staff who just happened to be around pitched in.
One patient was in critical condition, while the rest were “walking wounded:” they had some bumps, bruises or cuts, but could be treated and sent home.
"Probably a lot of shock. They were cold. Some small lacerations,” Brown said.
Brown commended all the staff for pitching in and making everything go smoothly.
“I am just really proud of the people who work at this hospital at all levels.”
Moskaluk said the most seriously injured of the people involved was the semi driver, who was struck by a vehicle.
Visibility was poor and the temperatures were hovering around the freezing mark while snow was flying.
The massive collision serves as a reminder that anyone driving on the Coquihalla is required to have snow tires or chains on their vehicle.
That requirement is in effect from Oct. 1 to April 30.
Buses are not required to have chains because the way they are designed makes it difficult to put them on, according to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. Because of their weight and transmissions, buses don’t usually have problems as long as they’re equipped with winter tires and driven to road conditions.