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Three people are dead and two dozen more were transported to hospitals across Alberta after an all-terrain sight-seeing bus rolled off the side of a road at the Columbia Icefield in the Canadian Rockies, according to RCMP and health officials.

The red-and-white vehicle was carrying 27 people Saturday afternoon when it crashed, killing three adults, the Mounties said in a statement. Alberta Health Services said 24 people were transported to hospital: 14 patients were in critical, life-threatening condition; four were in serious but stable condition; and the remaining six were in stable condition.

The survivors were taken to hospitals in Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Hinton and Calgary by air and ground ambulances, AHS said on Twitter.

Responders attend to a rolled-over icefield touring bus in Jasper National Park, Alta., in a handout photo taken on July 18, 2020.Randy Cusack/The Canadian Press

The rollover happened after a vehicle designed to navigate the steep mountain terrain and the ice field lost control as it drove down an access road to the Athabasca Glacier, according to Vanja Krtolica, who witnessed the incident. He was in a similar coach on the glacier, facing the hill and waiting for the other vehicle to finish its descent so his tour group could return to the visitor centre at the top.

“All of a sudden, everybody started screaming because they saw the coach lose control,” he said Saturday evening, while still on the glacier in Jasper National Park as emergency crews worked at the crash scene. “It was careening down that 33 degree… steep hill and lost control.”

The vehicle rolled about five or six times down the hill, Mr. Krtolica said. It stopped with its wheels in the air.

“We watched the whole thing.”

The crash happened around 2:00 P.M. Mr. Krtolica, his wife and eight-month-old child were about 300 to 400 metres away from the crash site. The vehicle they were in does not have seat belts, he said.

Dave McKenna, president of the Banff Jasper Collection for Pursuit, said the RCMP and Occupational Health and Safety are on site investigating and that an update will be provided when the investigation has concluded.

"I would like to extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the deceased as well as extend our utmost sympathy to those who were injured in [Saturday's] accident," Mr. McKenna said in a statement.

“We’d like to thank Parks Canada, First Responders, including Alberta EMS, and our team at the Columbia Icefield for responding so quickly.”

The Columbia Icefield is about 100 kilometres south of Jasper and 130 kilometres north of Lake Louise, on a highway known as the Icefields Parkway. This remote location, coupled with the number of passengers aboard the tour vehicle, meant emergency crews from a number of different communities were called in to respond. RCMP said it is investigating the rollover.

Premier Jason Kenney said he was “saddened” to hear of the accident and thanked emergency workers for responding. “Prayers for all involved in the incident,” he said on Twitter.

EMS crews from Calgary, Jasper, Nordegg, Banff, Rocky Mountain House, Canmore, Hinton, Edmonton, and Sundre, responded to the rollover, AHS said. STARS, an air ambulance service in the province, said it dispatched teams from Grande Prairie, Calgary, and Edmonton. Fixed wing air ambulances from Slave Lake, Lac La Biche and Edmonton and a chartered helicopter out of Canmore, also responded to the crash. RCMP officers from Jasper, Banff, and Lake Louise, along with Parks Canada officials, were dispatched to the scene. The fire departments in Jasper and Lake Louise also responded.

Mr. Krtolica, the witness, said the tour operator sent people to the crash scene within minutes. He estimated it took other emergency responders roughly 45 minutes to arrive at the remote scene.

Emergency crews used the visitor centre as a staging area, the Calgary-based tourist said. Some victims were airlifted out of the crash site, Mr. Krtolica said, and emergency crews carried others on stretcher boards to awaiting vehicles.

The terrain complicated the rescue, Mr. Krtolica noted. Pickup trucks are struggling with the steep hill. “They are kind of fishtailing all over the place.”

There were two other tour vehicles on the glacier at the time of the rollover, Mr. Krtolica said. The stranded tourists in these vehicles received food, water, and blankets while emergency crews tended to the victims at the crash site, he said. The tour vehicle Mr. Krtolica and his family were in got off the glacier around 7:00 P.M., using the access road.

“The road was seemingly good and no issues,” he said in a message late Saturday.

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