Six people were killed and more than 30 injured in Ottawa during a Wednesday morning crash between a Via Rail train and a double-decker city bus filled with commuters.
Ottawa police have identified the OC Transpo bus driver as David Woodard, 45, of Ottawa. He was one of five people pronounced dead at the scene.
A sixth person later died in hospital, paramedics confirmed. Eight were reportedly in critical condition as of late Wednesday.
Friends and co-workers told CityNews Woodard is a husband and father of two. He has worked for the city of Ottawa for the past 10 years, but only started driving the ill-fated route last September.
He was an awesome guy, always happy…put smiles on other peoples’ faces all the time,” one friend said. “I don’t understand why it has to be this way.”
Passengers aboard the city bus screamed “Stop! Stop!” as the driver plowed through a flashing level crossing and into the passing Via Rail train. The horrific collision sheared off the front of the bus and knocked the Via locomotive and one of four passenger cars off the tracks.
“People started screaming, ‘Stop! Stop!’ because they could see the train coming down the track,” said Carleton University student Tanner Trepanier, who was in the upper level of the new, double-decker OC Transpo bus.
Both levels of the front end of the bus, extending back to the driver’s seat, were ripped off by the impact.
“There was a lot of screaming, but then people were actually relatively calm, considering the situation,” Trepanier said of the aftermath.
The bus was on a dedicated transit line that runs parallel to a busy commuter artery just east of a suburban Via Rail station, about 10 kilometres west of Parliament Hill.
Witnesses on the ground said the bus simply didn’t stop, despite flashing lights and lowered safety barriers that had the morning commuter traffic stopped nearby.
“Boom! It went into the train like that,” said Pascal Lolgis, who watched the bus smash through a safety barrier.
“He didn’t stop. He must have lost his brakes. Or he had an … attack or whatever.
“He just didn’t stop. He just keep going like that. Then he got hit.”
Another witness, Mark Cogan, also said the safety barrier was down.
“I just thought maybe there’s a side way around or something but instantly he just … he smoked the train,” said Cogan. “He went through the guard rail and just hammered the train and then it was just mayhem.”
A broken safety barrier could be seen under the bus carriage.
The Transportation Safety Board dispatched 11 investigators to the scene to start what a senior board official said will be a very complex job that could take months.
Jean Laporte, the board’s chief operating officer, said the team will be thorough.
“We are documenting, photographing the wreckage and the accident site,” Laporte said. “We will be assessing the crossing, its design and the sightlines, we’ll be checking the warning systems and the gates at the crossing to ensure they were functioning correctly.”
Data from the onboard locomotive recorder will also be reviewed, “as well as from other recording devices that might be available,” Laporte added.
In photos: Witnesses took to social media to document the crash.
Rescue crews swarmed over the mangled wreckage as ambulances, fire trucks and police vehicles flooded the scene, rushing the injured to area hospitals.
A spokesman for Ornge, the provincial ambulance service, said two helicopters were dispatched to the scene, including one from Toronto, because the initial reports were so dire.
The choppers were recalled when it was clear ground transport ambulances were able to handle the volume. The chief of staff at the nearby Queensway-Carleton hospital said four patients had been admitted initially, all suffering from broken bones.
The Civic Hospital also said it had admitted four survivors suffering severe trauma.
“This is one of the worst events we have seen in the city or at this hospital; the tragic injury and loss of life to people,” said Dr. Andrew Falconer of the Queensway-Carleton.
“It is overwhelming to imagine the suffering that is going on. We have had other mass casualties (events), but not for many years. This one is definitely tragic.”
The accident occurred just before 9 a.m. and a number of students from Algonquin College and Carleton University were aboard the bus. A trauma centre for worried families was set up at a nearby sports complex and by midday people were arriving in small groups.
“All they said was it’s just a waiting game now,” said a young woman who emerged with her mother after a short visit in the centre.
The woman, who did not wish to be identified, said she had been unable to contact her baby’s father on his cellphone, and worried he was on the bus. Nervously smoking a cigarette, she said hospitals were not taking calls from people looking for friends and family. Another woman arrived with several teenagers in tow, wiping her eyes.
She wouldn’t talk, but nodded when asked if she had a loved one on the bus.
The Via locomotive and one of four passenger cars could be seen resting askew on the tracks, but Via officials said there were no major injuries on the train. The company has suspended its Ottawa-Toronto service while the investigation continues.
A number of people gathered on the tracks near the crash site Wednesday evening for a candlelight vigil and condolences were pouring in from politicians.
“It is a tragic morning in the nation’s capital, as a devastating accident between a bus and train has caused injury and death,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement. “On behalf of all Canadians, Laureen and I extend our thoughts and prayers to all those affected by this tragedy.”
The prime minister said he “would like to commend all of the first responders who acted quickly to assist those in need.” Glen Pilon, of the Transportation Safety Board, said a number of investigators were on the scene. “We have people from our engineering branch, we have people from our human factors and we have numerous technical investigators, and we have more coming for support,” said Pilon.
There was also a moment of silence in the Ontario legislature as it opened Wednesday morning.
“My heart goes out to all the individuals and families who are affected, and I want to thank our first responders for being on the scene,” said Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.
“And the province will be in constant contact to help assist the city of Ottawa or the federal government if that’s necessary.”
With files from Murray Brewster, John Ward, Jennifer Ditchburn and Steve Rennie