Following a fatal bus crash last September, the University of Victoria is changing its course on field trips to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre (BMSC) after the release of an independent investigation into the crash.
On Sept. 13, 2019, John Geerdes and Emma Machado, both 18, died after a chartered bus carrying 45 UVic students and two teaching assistants, slid off the side of the road and down an incline landing on its roof.
The bus was mid-way between Port Alberni and Bamfield when the crash happened.
Ross Cloutier, an expert in outdoor-related risk management with Bhudak Consultants Ltd., was hired to review university policies, pre-trip information and the planning process. Cloutier interviewed students, parents, university employees and visited the site of the crash and the Bamfield facility. All surviving students and their parents or guardians were given the opportunity to speak or correspond with Cloutier, who also travelled to Manitoba and Iowa to meet with the families of the deceased students.
The review notes a “series of what seemed to be non-related and low-consequence events can combine to form a much larger and catastrophic event,” according to a UVic press release.
The report highlights a number of influences on the crash that led to the deadly outcome such as the group’s late departure from Victoria, along with road construction delays and the length of stops for dinner and sightseeing along the drive. The narrowing of the road at the accident site, the soft road shoulder from recent road grading, the misjudgment of the road width, two vehicles meeting at the narrow point of the road, bright headlights that restricted the bus driver’s visions and an attempt by both vehicles to go through the narrow point at the same time were also contributing factors.
Any future UVic bus trips to Bamfield will now have a hazard assessment and control program, travel and arrive during daylight hours, pre-determine itineraries, use an additional satellite communication device, have enough first aid equipment for the groups’ size and the appropriate staff on board to enforce protocols such as adhering to the itinerary and wearing of seat belts.
UVic will also work with the BMSC, which is co-owned by five western Canadian universities, to explore alternative ideas that would benefit other users of the road such as a pilot car service, an information hub for travelers with road and other information, along with the use of VHF radio for vehicle to vehicle communication.
BMSC is closed to school trips until April 2021 due to COVID-19, but UVic will not use buses for field trips to the site until the pertinent recommendations are in place. The university also agrees with the review’s finding that using the MV Frances Barkley ferry service from Port Alberni to Bamfield may be useful for some field schools.
The condition and suitability of the logging road as an essential corridor between Bamfield and Port Alberni continues to be a concern. UVic, along with the Huu-ay-aht First Nations and the BMSC are advocating for the provincial government to improve the road conditions, which parents and students have identified as an important priority.
To read the full report visit tinyurl.com/y6vacge7.