HOPE, B.C. — A truck driver says he'll be haunted by the sounds of twisting metal and breaking glass after a "catastrophic" crash in British Columbia that killed one person and injured dozens more.
The crash happened just before 10 a.m. Wednesday on the Coquihalla Highway near Hope, a stretch known for treacherous winter conditions that's about 160 kilometres east of Vancouver.
Paramedics transported two patients to hospital by air in critical condition and three patients by ground in serious but stable condition. Crews also cared for another 34 patients with non-life-threatening injuries at the scene, Emergency Health Services said.
RCMP confirmed one person died of their injuries.
Mitchell Danilak, a truck driver from Leduc, Alta., said he was driving in the slow lane and was headed down a steep, curvy hill when he saw a fellow truck driver waving his hands out the window at him as he drove by in the opposite direction.
Danilak began to slow down and was able to pull to a stop without crashing into the pileup of more than 20 vehicles in front of him, which included cars, a motor coach bus and a tractor-trailer jackknifed across a rock face, he said.
Then he said he saw a police cruiser come "flying" down the hill in the fast lane, crash into the guardrail and spin into the wreckage, followed by three other vehicles that did the same.
"It's just catastrophic," he said, speaking by phone from the scene on Wednesday.
"I've seen accidents and everything like that before, but nothing of this magnitude. The sounds are going to haunt to me for the next little while."
The 29-year-old described hearing glass shattering, metal crumpling and "smash, after smash, after smash."
"It's not how I wanted to start my morning."
Danilak said he was grateful that he was only carrying 36 tonnes of feed pellets, rather than the 45 tonnes he normally hauls, and that he didn't come barrelling down the hill.
He said the road was covered in hard-packed snow and was so icy that it was almost impossible to walk on.
The hill behind him on Wednesday afternoon was lit up by flashing lights, with police cruisers, tow trucks, fire rescue vehicles and even an ambulance in the ditch up against a rock wall, he added.
Emergency Health Services said multiple paramedic crews were dispatched to the scene, including 13 ground and three air ambulances, several supervisor units and multi-patient transit buses.
Crews assisted other first responders with the transport of more than 30 people to a nearby warming station in Hope.
"Investigators and rescue personnel are extremely busy dealing with this significant incident," said RCMP Cpl. Mike Halskov in an email.
He said the investigation was in its early stages but it appears that road and weather conditions in the area may be a major contributing factor to the collision.
B.C. is experiencing a cold snap with colder temperatures and more snow than usual in many parts of the province.
Environment Canada says temperatures in the area of the crash felt close to -20 with the wind chill.
Traffic control personnel were at the scene and the Coquihalla, also known as Highway 5, was closed at the junction with Highway 3. The highway is a major four-lane route connecting the Lower Mainland and B.C.'s Interior.
Cpl. Mike Halskov of RCMP traffic services said investigators, highway maintenance personnel and tow operators continued their work in challenging conditions late Wednesday afternoon.
Many of the uninjured were gathered in Hope waiting for transportation home or elsewhere, he said, and he thanked volunteers who helped provide them with shelter, warmth and hot coffee.
The RCMP was not able to confirm the total number of individuals involved, the extent and type of injuries sustained or the number and type of vehicles involved.
In addition to the person who died, several people sustained life‑threatening injuries and a number of others sustained injuries ranging from minor to non‑life threatening, Halskov said.
Investigators will remain at the scene until vehicles can be towed and the highway is made safe for travel after the winter storm that passed through the area Wednesday, he added.
— By Laura Dhillon Kane and Terri Theodore in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2021.
The Canadian Press