Witnesses to a fatal train crash involving an Ottawa city bus describe a scene of chaos and confusion as it appears the bus failed to stop at the rail crossing and crashed into the side of the train, killing six people and injuring as many as 33 others. The devastating nature of the crash was clear from the 911 call (audio in clip above), informing the operator of multiple 'code blacks' at the scene.
Officials are still trying to piece together what happened prior to the crash, which occurred shortly before 9 a.m. near the intersection of Woodroffe Avenue and Fallowfield Road. Transportation Safety Board said it would be "some time" before answers were clear.
What is known is that six people were killed in the crash between a double-decker city bus and a Via Rail train bound for Toronto. Another 33 people were treated in hospital, some of whom remained in surgery late into the day.
"A void has been left in these lives that will be impossible to fill," Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said Wednesday afternoon, while offering support to the families affected by the tragedy.
According to eyewitness accounts, passengers on board the double-decker commuter bus began shouting for the driver to stop as they approached the crossing.Witness Pascal Lolgis told the Canadian Press that it appeared the bus drove through a barrier.
“Boom! It went into the train like that. He didn't stop. He must have lost his brakes. Or he had an . . . attack or whatever,” he said. “He just didn't stop. He just kept going like that. Then he got hit.” Another witness, Mark Cogan, similarly said the bus drove through the guard rail and struck the side of the train.
The cause of the accident has not been confirmed. City officials and Transportation Safety Board investigators remain at the scene gathering details. The TSB's Jean Laporte says the investigation could take "some time."
Images coming from the crash scene show a double-decker bus with its nose torn entirely off. The Via Rail train and front passenger car were left derailed a short distance from the crash site.
Greg Mech told CBC News he was riding on the top of the double-decker bus when it drove into the side of the train."From what I can tell the bus driver did not notice that these train track's signal lights were on and the gates were down. People screamed on the bus shortly before the crash because he was not stopping," Mech told the network.
VIA Rail Update - Fallowfield: Re fatalities & injuries on bus, our thoughts and prayers are with them & their loved ones.
— VIA_Rail (@VIA_Rail) September 18, 2013
Mech said passengers were thrown from their seats from the collision, some of them were even ejected from the vehicle.
"Because I was on the left side of the window, I could see that there were bodies on the train tracks. It was horrible. There's just no other way to explain it. Some people were upset and crying. People were mentally stressed out. People were just trying to figure out what happened," he said.
While the devastation was immediately recognizable from the bus, it seems the extent of the damage was not immediately evident to train passengers.
More on the Ottawa bus crash:
Joe Boughner said on Twitter that he was waiting at a nearby station to board the Toronto-bound train when it appeared to derail. It wasn’t until later that he understood the true extent of the crash.
According to the Toronto Star, train passengers remained on board until they could be safely shuttled from the scene.David Hugill later told the newspaper they felt a "little bump" at the time of the collision. “On the train, it was totally undramatic. A little rumble and then we came off the tracks," he said.
“When we got off, it was pretty dramatic. The front of the train was more affected than we were, but it’s crazy how badly the bus was damaged.”
Chris Krepski, a spokesperson for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, says a team of four investigators have arrived to begin collecting evidence from the crash site.
"Obviously we'll let the first responders do their work,” Krepski told reporters. “Once their work is complete we'll start to take a closer look at the accident scene, document the wreckage, take some photos of the wreckage. We'll also take a very close look at the crossing design, what the sight lines were at the crossing, whether or not any kind of warning or protection systems at the crossing were working."
Ottawa paramedics confirmed late Wednesday morning that six people were killed in the crash, five of whom were declared at the scene and another who was pronounced dead in hospital.
A total of 34 victims were rushed to area hospitals following the morning crash, 11 of whom are considered to be in critical condition.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson shared his deepest condolences at a press conference on Wednesday. He said the city is doing everything it can to support the victims and their families.
A reunification centre has been established at the Nepean Sportsplex, where loved ones are urged to gather. All city flags have been lowered to half-staff.
Via Rail said service from Ottawa to Toronto has been suspended following the crash. Service between Montreal and Ottawa will continue as usual.
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