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Dozens injured after tour bus rolls over on Coquihalla Highway (updated)

Five critical, 10 in serious condition after tour bus rolls over about 30 km south of Merritt

A group’s tour of the Rockies ended abruptly Thursday afternoon when a bus carrying 56 people rolled over about 30 kilometres south of Merritt and six people were airlifted to hospital in critical condition.

Everyone on the bus suffered “varying degrees” of injury when the southbound bus crashed around 3 p.m. on the Coquihalla Highway, according to Merritt RCMP Sgt. Norm Flemming.

Six passengers in critical condition and 15 others who were seriously hurt were airlifted to hospital, said Flemming, while 19 ambulances were sent to the scene to treat the remaining 35 people who suffered bumps, bruises and cuts requiring stitches.

“We don’t have any fatalities listed yet and we’re just crossing our fingers and hoping for the best on that one,” he said Thursday evening.

As of late Thursday evening, five people remained in critical condition, 10 were in serious condition and another 28 were dealing with more minor injuries, according to Interior Health spokeswoman Michaela Swan.

The cause of the accident is under investigation, but it appears the bus was the only vehicle involved, he added.

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The passengers were all of “(East) Asian descent” heading back to the Lower Mainland, but investigators are still trying to determine which company was operating the bus, Flemming said.

Nick Kam, director of services for Super Vacation, a company based in Richmond that identifies itself on its website as the largest “Chinese tour operator in North America,” confirmed the bus was on a tour organized by his company.

Kam placed the call on hold, and another man who did not identify himself picked up the phone and said the passengers were tourists of different nationalities returning to Vancouver from Kamloops on the final leg of their tour of the Rocky Mountains.

Kam said the bus was not owned by his company but was chartered through another company, which he didn’t identify. He also said the other company provided the driver.

An employee with Western Bus Lines, whose name can be seen on the side of the bus partly scratched out by the crash, would not comment Thursday evening.

Photos of the bus posted to social media show people crowded around blown-out windows.

“There was blood all over the bus and people under the bus,” said student Adam Hopewell, who was on a road trip to Vancouver with his friend, stepdad and mother when they arrived at the scene of the crash.

“It looked like just the bus (was involved in the accident), but there was a big semi parked probably 20 feet back from the bus,” Hopewell said. “We saw the helicopters (coming) when we were driving to Vancouver.”

Daniel Parsons was on his way home from work when he happened upon the scene. Police and paramedics were already there and two school buses had been brought in to help with the injured.

“You could see the bus, it was right off the side of the highway and it looked like it had rolled over,’’ Parsons said. “There was just a pile of people all along the side of the bus receiving medical assistance and you could see some blood on the side of the bus. It was a pretty bad scene for sure. I haven’t seen one like that.”

He said the crash appeared to happen along a slight curve in the highway.

Gibbons, Alta., resident Kat Woycechowsky was driving south of Merritt with her boyfriend to visit her in-laws in Surrey when they noticed the bus speed past them down a hill going at least 125 km/h.

“We had to actually go about 140 km/h to pass it going up (the next hill),” Woycechowsky said. “And that’s when my boyfriend looked at me, he said, ‘for a bus going that fast — on a coach bus — that’s very unsafe. I feel for those people on that bus.’”

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