RCMP say the deadly chain-reaction crash on the Coquihalla Highway Wednesday started with a single semi truck that stopped in the northbound lane outside of Hope, B.C.
According to Cpl. Mike Halskov of the B.C. RCMP Traffic Service, a south Okanagan man in his 40s and dog died when their pickup truck crashed into the rear of the semi.
"The road conditions in the area of the collision were treacherous and caught many unaware which resulted in a cascading, chain-reaction collision involving at least two dozen vehicles, including passenger vehicles, semi trucks, and a bus," said Halskov.
It's estimated 50 people were caught in the massive pileup. Two were flown to hospital while three others were taken by ambulance. However, as of Thursday, only one remains in hospital with broken bones and is expected to recover.
An officer attending the crash was injured after his vehicle slid and hit a concrete barrier, and then was hit from behind by a jackknifed semi that also couldn't stop.
Other rescue vehicles, including tow trucks and a B.C. ambulance, were also involved in minor crashes as they arrived to render assistance.
John Behrens, manager of Hope Towing, watched some of the crashes from a safe distance.
"It was clunking and crushing and metal banging together ... noisy steam and oil flying when radiators blew apart," he said. "I've been doing this for 40 years — it's gotten to the point where it's just a dull roar in the back of my head."
Behrens said the downhill curve where it happened was extremely slippery and "not the greatest design."
"The fast lane had been plowed and sanded and traffic was staying fairly good in the fast lane," he said. "It was really icy and somebody went into the slow lane, hit the ice and started a chain reaction and it just got worse and worse and worse."
Speed relative to the poor road conditions was a factor, said Halskov.
"Slower speeds may not have prevented collisions due to the highway being glare ice, but slower speeds may have reduced injury," he said.
Investigators say they have gathered a significant amount of dash camera video but that no criminal charges are anticipated.
Province reviewing contractor services
In a written statement release Thursday afternoon, the Ministry of Transportation said its maintenance contractor had six plows out on that section of Highway 5 Wednesday morning.
Plowing and sanding took place at 7:30 a.m., and abrasives were laid in the fast lane at 9:45 a.m., prior to the chain reaction.
"Ministry staff are reviewing the incident with the maintenance contractor to see if anything else could have been done, within the contracted service levels, to prevent yesterday's incident," read the statement.
The ministry says winter collisions on that section of the Coquihalla have been decreasing, with about half the number of collisions recorded last year compared to four years ago.