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Authorities look for cause of deadly glacier bus crash in Alberta Rockies

Last Updated Jul 19, 2020 at 12:11 pm MDT

A tourist bus rolled near Jasper, killing three and injuring 24 people, July 18, 2020. (Photo submitted by Angela Bye)

COLUMBIA ICEFIELD, Alta. — A lone RCMP truck with its lights flashing guarded the entrance to the road on Sunday where a snow coach crash killed at least three people and left 14 others badly hurt.

The vehicle, visible from the highway, appeared to have rolled about 50 metres down a steep embankment from the road.

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

The iconic red and white coaches, 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.

Authorities were still trying to puzzle out why the glacier sightseeing bus rolled at one of the most popular attractions in the Rocky Mountains, the Columbia Icefield, early on Saturday afternoon.

“They were out until very late last night,” RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Leigh Drinkwater said of the investigation.

Rob Kanty, who was on an earlier bus and witnessed the crash, 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.”

It was not clear how soon the coach could be removed from the crash scene.

“That’s going to be part and parcel is the logistics to have that vehicle removed from the site itself,” Drinkwater said. “Whether it’s remotely, whether it’s examined on site is going to be in the hands of the Jasper detachment and the collision analyst.”

In all, 27 people were aboard when the bus crashed. Air ambulances were sent from all over the province to ferry the injured from the picturesque but remote location.

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

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

Tanya Otis, a spokeswoman for Pursuit, the company that runs the tours, said the ice explorer was on its way to the glacier when it crashed.

“Our immediate concern is with the injured and their families and we are supporting the efforts of first responders,” she said in a statement.

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 the most picturesque drives in Canada. Pursuit offers a Columbia Icefield Adventure, which it bills as a must-do experience for any resident or visitor in the Canadian Rockies.

The tour has guests board an ice explorer to drive onto the Athabasca Glacier, where guests can get off the bus to walk on the glacier and fill their water bottles with the pure, cold runoff.

The company reopened the icefield tours about a month ago with 50 per cent capacity after being closed due to COVID-19.

— With files from Rob Drinkwater and Colette Derworiz in Edmonton, Nicole Thompson in Toronto, and Camille Bains in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2020.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press