‘It’s still surreal’: Authorities look for cause of deadly Alberta glacier bus crash

RCMP Sgt. Rick Bidaisee, Jasper Detachment Commander, speaks to the media about three passengers who were killed when a glacier sightseeing bus rolled over at the Columbia Icefields near Jasper, Alta., Sunday, July 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
RCMP work on the scene of a sightseeing bus rollover at the Columbia Icefields near Jasper, Alta., Sunday, July 19, 2020. Three people were killed and more than a dozen others were critically injured when a glacier sightseeing bus rolled at one of the most popular attractions in the Rocky Mountains, the Columbia Icefield. RCMP said the rollover happened early Saturday afternoon. Pictures posted online by people at the scene showed one of the attraction’s big-wheeled ice explorers on its roof down a moraine embankment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Tourists take photos at the Columbia Icefields near Jasper, Alta., Sunday, July 19, 2020. Three people were killed and more than a dozen others were critically injured when a glacier sightseeing bus rolled at one of the most popular attractions in the Rocky Mountains, the Columbia Icefield. RCMP said the rollover happened early Saturday afternoon. Pictures posted online by people at the scene showed one of the attraction’s big-wheeled ice explorers on its roof down a moraine embankment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Stuart Back, vice president of operations with Pursuit, speaks to the media after three passengers were killed when a glacier sightseeing bus operated by the company rolled over at the Columbia Icefields near Jasper, Alta., Sunday, July 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Angela Bye couldn’t believe her eyes Saturday when she used the telephoto lens of her camera to get a closer look at what appeared to be an overturned vehicle on the Columbia Icefield, one of the country’s prime tourist spots.

Three people were killed and 14 others suffered life-threatening injuries when a glacier bus carrying tourists to a glacier, rolled over.

Bye, who’s from Calgary, and her husband had taken the icefield tour earlier in the day. When her husband said it looked like another bus had turned over she had a closer look.

“I took my camera and zoomed as far as it could go and I’m like yeah, it is wheels up. I could see even more stuff and realized they were still getting people out and I was shocked at that point to realize this has just happened,” Bye said.

“You could definitely see people were crouched over the windows, helping people out. There were a couple of people in helmets. I was able to see there were a couple of people laying on the ground but as I said, not everybody must have been out.”

Bye said when they left they ran into several emergency vehicles on the way. She said watching it from a distance is still playing on her mind.

“It’s still surreal for all of us. We’re probably all still in shock as to what happened and that’s why it hasn’t hit that it could have been us.”

Police worked to remove the upturned vehicle throughout the day Sunday.

A lone RCMP truck with its lights flashing guarded the entrance to the road where the vehicle appeared to have rolled about 50 metres down a steep embankment for as yet unknown reasons. Authorities were still trying to work out how to move the coach.

“That’s going to be part and parcel is the logistics to have that vehicle removed from the site itself,” RCMP Cpl. Leigh Drinkwater said.

READ MORE: Glacier sightseeing bus rolls in the Alberta Rockies killing 3 and injuring others

One person could be seen on top of the “Ice Explorer,” which remained on its roof. Three semi-trailer trucks, two with flatbeds, were at the entrance.

The iconic red and white vehicles, which look like buses with monster-truck tires, regularly leave from a visitor centre and take tourists up a rough road onto the Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park.

In all, 27 people were aboard when it crashed. Air ambulances from across the province ferried the injured from the picturesque but remote location.

Alberta Heath Services said 24 patients were taken to hospitals in Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Calgary and Banff, 14 of them with life-threatening injuries. AHS said five others were in serious condition while the remaining five were listed as stable.

AHS said hospitals in both Edmonton and Calgary were put on “Code Orange” alert so they would be prepared for the high number of patients with critical and serious injuries.

There was no further word Sunday on the conditions or identities of those involved. Police did say the three people killed were adults. They also confirmed no further fatalities.

In a tweet Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his condolences.

“To those who lost a loved one in yesterday’s bus crash at the Columbia Icefields, know that we are here for you and are keeping you in our thoughts,” Trudeau said. “We also wish a full recovery to those who were injured. And to the first responders, thank you for your quick action and hard work.”

In a statement on Sunday, the company that runs the tours expressed sympathy for the victims and their families. Dave McKenna, president of Pursuit, also thanked first responders.

“The RCMP and Occupational Health and Safety are on site and actively investigating,” McKenna said in a statement. “An update will be provided following the investigation.”

The company reopened the icefield tours about a month ago with 50 per cent capacity after being closed due to COVID-19. The tour has guests drive onto the Athabasca Glacier, where they can walk on the glacier and fill their water bottles with the pure, cold runoff.

The vehicle was on its way to the glacier when it crashed.

Rob Kanty, who was on an earlier bus and witnessed the incident, said he believed a rockslide might have played a role.

“We watched the event unfold from the parking lot,” Kanty said in an email. “We could see the dust and rocks still sliding down the mountain towards the tour bus already rolled over on its roof.”

The Columbia Icefield is one of the largest non-polar icefields in the world. It is located about 100 kilometres south of Jasper and accessed from Highway 93 North, the Icefields Parkway. The parkway leads from Jasper down to Lake Louise through Banff and Jasper national parks and is one of Canada’s most scenic drives.

Parth Bala drove 27 hours from Scarborough to the Canadian Rockies and had planned to take the tour Sunday. He said the trip had been planned over the past 10 years and it’s a disappointment.

Bala said he’d happily ride it in the future.

“Lightning doesn’t strike the same spot twice in a row so we’re going to see how the professionals assess the situation and when it’s safe to do so we will assess at that point.”

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

AlbertaRCMP

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Where a five-point bull elk shot in a bow-only area near Sparwood. (Photo contributed by Conservation Officer Service.)
Conservation Officers seek info on bull elk shot in bow-only area

The five-point bull elk was shot near Sparwood on Oct. 18

The most recent council meeting was streamed via Zoom on Oct. 20. (Soranne Floarea/ The Free Press)
District of Sparwood revisits support for no-cost contraception

Representatives from Sparwood Contraception Access Advocates brough the matter back to council

COVID-19 test tube. (Contributed)
test tube with the blood test is on the table next to the documents. Positive test for coronavirus covid-19. The concept of fighting a dangerous Chinese disease.
Interior Health launches online booking for COVID-19 tests

Testing is available to anyone with cold, influenza or COVID-19-like symptoms

A health-care worker prepares to swab a man at a walk-in COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal North, Sunday, May 10, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)
Interior Health records 21 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend

Thirty-six cases remain active; two people are in the hospital, one of whom is in intensive care

STA members and non-members alike are encouraged to send in photos of their trail adventures. (Photo contributed by Scott Tibballs)
Sparwood Trails Alliance fundraises for Lunch Loop

Trail adventurers are invited to submit photos of their adventures for an STA calendar

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

BC ELECTION
B.C. political leaders reflect on rural health care as election looms

NDP leader John Horgan, BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson talk health care priorities in the Kootenays

A glimpse of some of the 480 (approx) cars written off as a result of the acid spills along the Trail highway in 2018. Photo: Trail Times
Kootenay Ford dealer’s frustration grows with ICBC

Trail AM Ford owner Dan Ashman says he just wants fair compensation from ICBC

Mail-in ballot from Elections BC (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
At least 26% of eligible voters have already cast a ballot, Elections BC says

Voters can cast a ballot until 8 p.m PST on Election Day

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A 2018 decision to fly a rainbow flag ended up costing the City of Langley $62,000 in legal fees (Langley Advance Times file)
Human rights win in rainbow flag fight cost B.C. city $62,000

“Lengthy and involved” process provoked by complaint

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a news conference Tuesday October 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau and his family decide against trick-or-treating this year due to COVID

Adhering to local health authorities, Trudeau urges Canadians to do their part in following those guidelines

Surrey RCMP cruisers outside a Newton townhouse Tuesday night. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Toddler in hospital, woman dead following stabbings at Surrey townhouse

Police say two-year-old was among victims found at townhouse complex in the 12700-block of 66 Avenue

A Tim Hortons employee hands out coffee from a drive-through window to a customer in Mississauga, Ont., on March 17, 2020. Tim Hortons is ending the practice of double cupping hot drinks, a move the fast food restaurant says will eliminate hundreds of millions of cups from landfills each year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
The end of double cupping: Tim Hortons ditches two cups in favour of one with sleeve

Most recycling facilities in Canada don’t recycle single use paper coffee cups because of a plastic lining

Most Read