Ian Fulford of Toronto grabbed onto his 16-year-old daughter as the bus began to tip over.
“I told her to hold on,’’ said Fulford, one of 33 passengers on board a Maritime Bus motor coach that slid into a ditch in Travellers Rest on Sunday evening.
The bus came to a rest on its side.
“There’s not much to hold onto in these new buses. When the bus came to a stop she had flipped up over my head. I was holding her (as she) dangled over the aisle.’’
Fulford had been visiting his parents in Wood Islands for the holidays and was heading to Moncton to catch a flight back to Toronto.
Mike Cassidy, who owns the bus line, said Sunday’s nor’easter was letting up when the bus left Charlottetown for the Confederation Bridge, which was open to all traffic when the bus left Charlottetown.
“We made the decision (once we were told) the bridge was open to collect (passengers) in Charlottetown, Hunter River, Kensington and Summerside,’’ Cassidy said Monday. “We got to Borden and the bridge is closed . . . and wasn’t going to re-open until (Monday).’’
Since the bridge wasn’t about to open anytime soon, the decision was made to turn around and drop everybody off where they were picked up.
Cassidy said it’s a well-known fact in the transportation industry that high-sided vehicles shouldn’t travel on the Blue Shank Road when the wind is strong so the bus driver chose to stick to Route 2.
It wasn’t long after dropping off a few passengers in Summerside that things began to go wrong.
Cassidy said the bus driver was going 60 km/h “when he tells me the wind started to take me’’.
“He says it was all in slow motion. The bus was parallel with the shoulder and it’s still going.’’
The bus, still sliding parallel, hit the shoulder and began to tip over, landing on its side just feet away from a Maritime Electric pole.
“There was no crash, no smash. The customers told me it was (like it was happening in) slow motion.’’
To avoid chance of fire, the bus driver immediately shut the bus down.
Fulford knew conditions were rapidly deteriorating once the bus turned on to Route 2.
“I was paying attention to how we were driving because the wind pushed us around a few times,’’ Fulford said. “(The driver) was going quite slow to compensate.’’
Fulford said the driver couldn’t compensate by moving into the other lane because there was traffic coming the other way.
“There was nothing else he could do.’’
As soon as the driver shut everything off, the inside of the bus went black.
“There was a bit of panic. Just people asking each other if they were OK and confirming everyone was alright in the back of the bus. People fell on each other. The driver asked everyone to stay calm while he got out on the roof hatch to check and see if it was safe for everyone else to get out. Then people started exiting.’’
Cassidy said the bus driver had nothing but praise for his passengers.
“The bus driver told me the way the people in the bus came together to look after one another. He said it was just phenomenal.’’
There just happened to be a registered nurse on the bus, who immediately began checking on people. She was the second last person to exit the bus.
RCMP, the Kensington Fire Department and Island EMS quickly descended on the collision scene, as did one particular nearby couple.
Cassidy wants to publicly thank Willard and Alice Blakeney for opening up their home to all 33 passengers. Members of the fire department went to Tim Horton’s and brought back coffee and donuts. The Guardian attempted to contact the Blakeney’s but wasn’t successful. A call to the fire chief in Kensington was also not returned.
Some people called relatives to come and get them while Cassidy sent smaller vehicles up to retrieve the rest.
Fulford said he doesn’t blame anyone for what transpired on Sunday, explaining everyone the storm was clearing.
“Everyone was happy to get on that bus to go, everyone assumed (the weather was getting better).’’
Fulford said they just happened to come across “the worst location at the worst time’’. The wind caught the bus and that was it.
The Toronto man said the only thing that was going through his mind as the bus began to tip over was to catch and hold on to his daughter and hope “this thing stops soon’’.
Fulford said it could have been worse, much worse.
“There was a telephone pole there and we were heading for it. if we had gone off the road 10 feet further up we would have hit that pole and it would have been a very different story.’’