‘It happened so fast’: Survivors of fatal BC bus rollover wonder why highway wasn’t closed | PKBNEWS

Two men who survived a fatal bus crash along Highway 97C in the southern interior of British Columbia wonder why the road was not closed and why the company chose to drive when the conditions were so bad.

The Christmas Eve accident happened shortly after 6 p.m., east of Merritt near the Loon Lake exit as the bus was heading from Kelowna to Vancouver. Video from the scene showed the westbound bus on its side.

Four people were confirmed dead by police on Sunday.

Passenger Justin McCleland says he was falling asleep when he heard someone screaming and the bus suddenly flipped onto its side.

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“It happened so fast,” he said. “One of the guys behind us opened the roof hatches for us… I was in shock. I have never experienced such a scenario before. It’s quite scary.

Gurkamal Rathore was awake when he noticed the bus starting to slide.

“It happened so fast. I guess five, three seconds and the next thing I know, we’re on our side,” he said, adding that the accident caused him to lose his glasses.

“It’s just total disorientation because we turned sideways. So I was trying to figure out exactly where I was facing, was it up, down, left, right.

The site of Saturday night’s bus crash on the Okanagan Connector.

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Police confirmed that the bus, driven by the Ebus company, rolled onto the passenger side and came to a stop in the eastbound lanes.

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McCleland says pedestrians stopped to help and offered warm jackets as people began tending to the injured.

“We took off all our coats to help the injured, to keep them warm. Take the scarves off, apply pressure to the wounds or whatever you can do to help,” he said, adding that emergency crews arrived quickly.

The Interior Health Authority (IHA) said on Sunday that 52 patients had been transported to four hospitals in the region, 36 of whom were evaluated and treated for injuries ranging from serious to minor.

On Monday, the IHA said seven patients remained hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

Rathore ended up with stitches in his finger and head. The pair were originally supposed to fly to their destinations, but ended up on the bus when their flights were cancelled.

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4 dead, several injured in BC bus crash on Christmas Eve: RCMP

McCleland says he thinks his seatbelt saved his life. He says the road was “very slippery” and wonders why anyone was driving.

“I don’t think any bus should have been on the road with people,” he said, adding that the road should have been closed. “Or the bus should have had chains on (the wheels).”

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McCleland and Rathore believe the bus was traveling too fast for the conditions. Rathore says the bus slid several times before the crash.

“It should have been closed and I think the driver, Ebus, should have recognized that the roads were terrible and that bus should not have been on the motorway.”

On Sunday, police said “road conditions were described as very poor with ice and snow on the road surface as well as rain and hail.”

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Rob Fleming released a statement on Monday regarding the incident and ongoing work on the motorways.

“Our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragic event, and I am grateful to all first responders and healthcare workers caring for those affected,” the statement read. “There were wintry driving conditions on the Connector over the weekend and the RCMP are continuing to investigate what happened in this specific instance. We will know more once the RCMP has completed its work.

Road maintenance crews continue to use all available equipment to plow, sand and salt the roads, Fleming said.

“We urge all drivers who must travel to exercise extreme caution and drive in the conditions.”

McCleland thanks Emergency Management BC and the Best Western Hotel in Merritt for helping people find housing.

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He says Ebus did not contact him and he spent an hour trying to reach the company to find out how he could get home, where his luggage is and to ask for a refund.

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Rain, snow and winter storm warnings issued for southern British Columbia

PKBNEWS also contacted Ebus, which said there were 47 people on board – 46 passengers and a driver – a different number than the 52 IHAs.

Ebus said its drivers are fully trained for winter conditions.

“I would like to extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones so hard hit by this tragic event last night,” Ebus President and Chief Operating Officer Tom Jezersek said in a statement on Sunday.

“Our thoughts and sympathy are with those injured and grieving at this time. We will continue to cooperate with the RCMP in their investigation and will release information when possible.

“Thank you to the first responders, healthcare workers and all those who provide support.”

Police say if you witnessed the accident or have video of the bus before the collision, please contact your local RCMP detachment.

A hotline was set up on Saturday evening for those seeking information about family members involved in the accident. This number is 250-545-2211.

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

– With files from Amy Judd and Doyle Potenteau.

© 2022 PKBNEWS, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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