‘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

Poppy donation boxes have been delivered to restaurants, cafes, stores and places of businesses in Prince Rupert by the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 127 for the 2020 National Poppy Campaign. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
National poppy campaign restricted by COVID-19

Prince Rupert Royal Canadian legion expects less donations to offer vital assistance to local vets

Elena Tran 9, grade five student at Conrad Elementary School learns about Truth and Reconciliation on Oct. 21 with the story of Chanie Wenjack who died at the side of rail lines while fleeing a residential school in 1967. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Conrad Elementary students learn of ‘reconciliACTION’ during Secret Path Week

Secret Path Week from Oct. 17 to 22 commemorates the passing of Chani Wenjack and Gord Downie

More than $10,000 in donations and toys was presented to the Salvation Army by the Prince Rupert Harley riders on Oct. 20, from the 39th annual Toy Ride held on Sept 26. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Harley Riders rode to victory with $10,000 donation to Salvation Army

The 39th annual Prince Rupert Harley Riders gifted more than 280 toys from the annual Toy Ride

The Prince Rupert Port Authority Land Use Plan will guide the growth within lands and waters under its jurisdiction and facilitate Canada’s trade with the world for the next 20 years. (Photo: Supplied by Port of Prince Rupert)
Land Use Plan finalized by Port Authority

PRPA Land Use Plan plan guides the growth and trade for next 20 years within its lands and waters

Such sweetness with all this candy. Dylan Kennedy 7, with his mom Kerri Kennedy volunteer at the Halloween Fest Committee event to bag candy for students in SD 52 on Oct. 19. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
How sweet it is

Bags of candy were assembled by more than 25 Halloween Fest Volunteers for distribution to S.D. 52

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

RCMP stock photo (Black Press)
Charges laid against Prince George man, 39, in drug trafficking probe

Tyler Aaron Gelowitz is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 18

Most Read