A narrow section of a Bamfield forest road, an oncoming vehicle and unused seat belts turned out to be a lethal combination when a bus plunged into an embankment, killing two University of Victoria students in September, according to an RCMP report.
âIf this had happened elsewhere for more than 60 kilometers, there would have been no problem,â said the RCMP Sgt. Brian Nightingale, a specialist in forensic collision reconstruction, said in an interview.
An RCMP technical report based on data from the bus’s electronic control module and physical evidence from the crash site was submitted to the BC Coroners Service and Transport Canada and shared with The Times Colonist.
Emma MacIntosh Machado, 18, of Winnipeg, and John Geerdes, 18, of Iowa City, Iowa, died in the crash.
The report, which is only part of the RCMP’s investigation into the crash, finds no fault, but does account for the speed of the bus, road conditions and the likely death of the two. students.
The accident happened on September 13, when a Wilson’s Transportation coach carrying 45 University of Victoria freshmen and two teaching assistants en route to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Center left Bamfield Main, a gravel forest road that connects Port Alberni and Bamfield.
Electronic data from the crash revealed that the 2001 Prevost XL2 bus crashed at 7:55 pm It was 44.3 kilometers from the Bamfield Marine Sciences Center.
The bus was traveling at an average speed of no more than 37 kilometers per hour on a small slope about 50 seconds before the accident. âThe speed of the bus was not a contributing factor,â said Nightingale, unit commander of the Vancouver Island Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Service.
The data shows that the bus was decelerating uphill when it made a slight right turn. The lights of a Jeep coming down the hill became visible about 50 to 75 meters away.
“When [the Jeep] comes into the turn, it’s higher, so its headlights are probably shining right in the driver’s eyes, âNightingale said.
The bus was 2.8 meters from the side of the road, but at a point where the road begins to narrow to 9.2 meters instead of 10.8 meters.
Bamfield Main is wide enough for two-way traffic, Nightingale said, but the left wheels of the 2.6-meter-wide bus were on what would have been the center line. âFor him, it would be too close for a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction,â Nightingale said.
He estimated that the bus pulled about two feet to the right.
âIt’s not really a big turn to the right,â he said. âIt’s just the fact that it tapers 1.6 meters just as the bus starts to move towardsâ¦ the side of the road. It is this combination of the two.
âIf the road hadn’t narrowed there, there wouldn’t have been an accident.
When the driver pulled to the right, the wheels on the right side of the bus jumped over a gravel “sidewalk” called a sag, onto a soft shoulder at the top of an embankment. The bus continued on the soft shoulder for about 16.8 meters at 7.2 km / h, sinking to the right.
After 14 meters, the bus began to tip over, then tip over onto its right side, sending unattached students on the left above those sitting on the right. Then the bus rolled over its roof.
MacIntosh-Machado and Geerdes were thrown out the window and pinned down, Nightingale said.
Trees prevented the bus from sliding further down the muddy embankment. The overturned wheels were about three meters from the side of the road.
There was no cell phone reception on the premises. More than an hour after the crash, police received a distress call from a satellite device registered at the University of Victoria in a remote location between Port Alberni and Bamfield.
A police file was opened at 9:17 p.m. Nightingale, who has been investigating commercial vehicle crashes and fatalities for more than 25 years, arrived at 12:53 am the next day.
Transport Canada said the bus had seat belts installed after it was purchased, Nightingale said. If a bus is made with seat belts, occupants must wear them, he said, but if they are added later, it is not mandatory.
“If they had been worn, the fatal injuries probably would not have occurred,” Nightingale said, “and the injuries would have decreased significantly.” Several people were injured when they were thrown inside the bus as it slid off the road.
Wilson’s Transportation declined to comment. Wilson’s and the University of Victoria both said they were investigating the crash and awaiting the results of further investigations.
Emma MacIntosh-Machado’s mother, Ethel MacIntosh, said she still had questions for the university, including departure time, mode of transportation, risk management plan, road conditions and who supervised the trip and made the decisions.
âObviously, we think some errors have occurred that shouldn’t have happened,â MacIntosh said. âYou don’t send your kid off to college to collect their ashes in a Tupperware container two weeks later. “
MacIntosh said she was not optimistic that anyone would ever be responsible for the bus tragedy.
âEmma and John didn’t have to die like this and our families will never be the same,â MacIntosh said. âI think it was just a calamity of mistakes, one thing after another.
âThere wasn’t a particular problem, but there were definitely a number of things. “
Mary Murphy, mother of Geerdes, whom she described as capable, athletic and strong, said the family were devastated and heartbroken by her death.
âPeople loved John and they loved Emma too.
“They were two dynamic young children who deserved a better result.”