Quebec provincial police have identified the victim of a crash at the Tadoussac ferry crossing on Monday as Laval resident Éric Belec.
Several eyewitnesses believe the outcome could have been much worse, if not for his actions in the seconds preceding the spectacular collision.
The 40-year-old was at the wheel of an RV when it sped down Highway 138, on a steep hill east of the ferry terminal.
The motor home ended up going over the raised loading ramp, crashing into the back of the ferry that had just begun its 10-minute journey toward Baie-Sainte-Catherine.
Belec and his passenger were taken to hospital where he was later pronounced dead. A 40-year-old woman from Lévis remains in critical condition.
The Sûreté du Québec said it appears that a mechanical problem with the RV may be to blame.
Eyewitnesses have told Radio-Canada that Belec did everything he could to warn people to get out of the way by honking as he sped down the hill, avoiding several other cars and pedestrians.
"He was trying to stop by swerving into the metal gates on the side of the road," said Chloé Duplessis, who witnessed the crash from the deck of the ferry.
Hearing the loud noise, Claire Gagné ran outside her bed and breakfast and witnessed the crash — she calls Belec "a hero."
"There was a lot of panic — a lot of people almost got hit," said Gagné.
One couple was walking their dog, she said, and got out of the way just seconds before the RV sped by.
"All I can say is that there were many close calls," she said.
Ferry was full
The mayor of Tadoussac, Charles Breton, said tourists and children often hang out at the back of the ship, looking over the railing at the picturesque scenery.
"If [the ferry] had taken off two seconds before, or two seconds later, the outcome could have been entirely different," said Breton.
He said the road is popular in the summer with tour buses, in addition to heavy trucks that arrive on Highway 138 from the north shore.
"All the elements are there for a catastrophic scenario," said Breton.
The mayor said that the municipality is in talks with Transports Québec to reconfigure the steep hill.
"I think this accident reminds us this has to be a priority," he said.
Gagné, whose bed and breakfast overlooks the road that leads to the ferry, said there have been several calls to public officials to look into the matter. She said residents have had safety concerns for a long time.
"Everybody knows about this, and no one is doing anything," she said.
Breton said while infrastructure is important, he is also urging people to drive carefully and make sure their vehicles are fit for the road.
Meanwhile, regular ferry service between Tadoussac and Baie-Sainte-Catherine has resumed, with both ships making the crossing every 20 minutes on either side of the Saguenay River.