Two B.C. paramedics, 59-year-old Jo-Ann Fuller and 65-year-old Ivan Polivka - both of Tofino, died after their ambulance plunged into the icy waters of Kennedy Lake about 50 kilometres from Tofino, Tuesday.
Ms. Fuller had been a paramedic for 23 years and Mr. Polivka for 14.
Ambulance Service head Les Fisher says his thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims, and the agency has a special team working with the RCMP and WorkSafe BC to investigate the crash.
RCMP divers located the bodies in the submerged ambulance on Tuesday afternoon, but steep terrain was hindering efforts to recover them and the vehicle, said Port Alberni RCMP Sergeant Kevin Murray.
"We're concentrating our efforts on retrieving the bodies and the vehicle," he said, noting the ambulance was at the bottom of a 30-metre high embankment. He added that he expected the work would be completed by evening.
Union president John Strohmaier said the crash occurred around 5 a.m. on Tuesday as the paramedics were returning to their home base of Tofino after transferring a patient to Port Alberni hospital.
The B.C. Ambulance Service notified Port Alberni around 7:30 a.m. when the crew failed to complete the trip as scheduled and could not be reached by pager or cellphone.
A highway worker found the submerged vehicle after noticing "a debris path" leading away from the highway toward Kennedy Lake, Sgt. Murray said.
The steep winding road from Tofino to Port Alberni is one of Vancouver Island's most dangerous stretches of highway.
Mr. Strohmaier said the victims were a man and a woman with a combined 34 years of experience as paramedics. Their names were being withheld until authorities had contacted family members, he said late Tuesday.
"They were just a couple of ordinary people with a long record of life-saving service to the community."
B.J. Chute, spokesman for the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., said the union will do "whatever we can to help the families of the two paramedics through this tragedy.
"This is one of the saddest days in the history of the ambulance paramedic in B.C." said Mr. Chute, who flew from Vancouver to Tofino on Tuesday afternoon to support grieving relatives and help plan the funerals.
While fatal accidents involving paramedics are rare, Mr. Chute noted that, including Tuesday's deaths, five ambulance workers have died in the line of duty in past five years.
"It's something that we as paramedics know, we do take risks to serve the public," he said.
Mr. Strohmaier said the union will have "people on the ground working with Worksafe BC and the RCMP" as the investigation into the crash continues over the next several days.
He said the union hopes that anything learned "will guide us in ensuring this never happens again."
However, Sgt. Murray said the cause of the crash may be difficult to pinpoint.
"We may never know, given that the only occupants on board have been found deceased," he said.
With a report from The Candian Press