MERRITT, B.C. — Video footage from a dashboard camera has allowed investigators in British Columbia to rule out speed as a potential factor in a bus crash on a mountain highway where dozens of tourists were injured as they were returning from a trip to the Rocky Mountains.
The RCMP has yet to determine why the bus lost control Thursday afternoon on a section of the Coquihalla Highway, south of Merritt, sending the vehicle skidding across several lanes and rolling into a ditch, ejecting numerous passengers. Police have said 56 people, many of them from East Asia, were on the bus.
Health officials said seven people remained in critical condition and six were in serious condition by mid-morning on Friday. Of the 43 people treated by Interior Health, 11 others remained in hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and 19 had been released, said health authority spokeswoman Michaela Swan.
Swan said Fraser Health, the neighbouring health authority in the Fraser Valley, had 12 patients in stable condition.
RCMP said several children were on the bus, but none suffered serious injuries.
Sgt. Brian Nightingale said dash-cam footage captured by a tractor-trailer travelling behind the bus indicated speed was likely not a factor, leaving human error or mechanical failure as possible causes.
“It’s more an issue that the driver drove into the centre median and then veered too hard trying to get onto the road,” Nightingale said.
“We’re doing mechanical (inspections) today on the bus, so that will rule out any kind of mechanical factors, like steering and braking and that kind of stuff.”
RCMP said in a news release that the highway was dry at the time of the crash and visibility was not an issue.
The release said passengers on the bus were from Canada, the United States and China, but they did not have a detailed breakdown of the passengers’ nationalities.
The passengers were on a tour organized by Super Vacation, a company based in Richmond, B.C., which describes itself as the largest Chinese tour operator in North America. The company has said the bus was returning to Vancouver from a trip to the Rocky Mountains and was travelling between Kamloops and Vancouver when it rolled over.
Company spokesman L. Lau said many of the passengers are from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, though he said some are from B.C. and elsewhere in Canada.
Lau said his company has been in touch with some of the passengers and has been figuring out ways to provide assistance.
“We have been planning for everything right now,” said Lau, who declined to give his full name. “Of course, some of the patients we can’t see.”
Lau said the bus was operated by Western Bus Lines, which he said is a “major local bus company with 35 years of experience.” Western Bus Lines, based in Kelowna, did not reply to repeated voice messages and emails.
“We are waiting for the police report,” Lau said.
Abraham Lin, director of consular services for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Vancouver, said his office had confirmed two of the patients are Taiwanese nationals, a 20-year-old man and a 21-year-old woman.
“They are just studying for the summer and they joined the bus tour for the Rocky Mountains,” Lin said.
Lin said his office had been in touch with one of the Taiwanese passengers and had contacted the other’s parents in Taiwan.
Neither the Chinese embassy in Ottawa nor the consulate in Vancouver could be reached.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. consulate in Vancouver said the consulate had contacted the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops and was told there were no American citizens at the facility. American officials hadn’t yet been able to reach other hospitals.
Photos from the scene on Thursday showed the white bus upright, with visible damage to its side and the Western Bus Lines logo mostly scraped off. Passengers and emergency workers could be seen standing alongside the bus, with debris strewn about the road.