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HomeWorld NewsCanada newsChristmas Eve bus crash on B.C. highway sends 53 people to hospital

Christmas Eve bus crash on B.C. highway sends 53 people to hospital

Dozens of people remained in hospitals Christmas Day after a crash involving a passenger bus the evening before on Highway 97C, the Okanagan Connector, near the Loon Lake exit.

Word of the crash came when DriveBC, the communications arm of the B.C. Ministry of Transportation, tweeted about a “vehicle incident” that shut the highway around 7 p.m. PT Saturday. At around 8:30 p.m., B.C. Health Emergency Services tweeted that multiple sets of emergency responders were at the scene.

Interior Health, the local health-care authority, said in a statement at around 10 p.m. they were not in a position to provide the extent of the injuries for those who were sent to hospital, including whether there were any fatalities. No cause was immediately provided for the crash. The authority said 53 people in total were sent to hospitals.

Highway 97C, or the Okanagan Connector, is a 224-kilometre stretch of road that runs east from Cache Creek in the central Interior to Kelowna in the Okanagan Valley, B.C.’s third-largest metropolitan area.

A snowy highway exit, with orange traffic cones and a sign that reads 'ACCIDENT SCENE'. A green 'EXIT' sign is visible in the background.
The passenger bus crash on Christmas Eve happened near the Loon Lake exit of B.C. Highway 97C, which is 330 kilometres east of Vancouver in the Southern Interior. (Jay Bertagnolli/CBC)

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the incident prompted Interior Health to initiate a Code Orange response to provide emergency care. Code Orange is generally used to describe a mass casualty or disaster situation at hospitals.

Medical teams were receiving the patients in Penticton Regional Hospital, Kelowna General Hospital and Nicola Valley Hospital in Merritt, according to Interior Health. 

Interior Health said Sunday morning on Twitter it has set up an information line for families to locate loved ones involved in the accident: 250-545-2211.

“In these situations, Interior Health activates staff in critical care areas such as the emergency department, medical imaging and surgery to support urgent patients,” Dix said. “My deepest gratitude to the first responders and medical teams who responded immediately to the call.”

Premier David Eby expressed his condolences to the people injured in the crash through social media.

“Shocked and saddened by the news of a serious bus accident between Merritt and Kelowna on the Okanagan Connector,” a Twitter post from Eby read.

According to DriveBC, the bus crash happened near the Loon Lake exit of the highway, which is 330 kilometres east of Vancouver and around 85 kilometres west of Kelowna.

DriveBC said the highway connecting Merritt and Kelowna was closed overnight between West Kelowna and Aspen Grove.

It reopened around 8:20 a.m. Christmas Day, according to DriveBC.

The crash comes after a week of winter storm warnings brought significant snow throughout B.C., including to the southern Interior where the crash happened.

A special weather statement from Environment Canada, issued Saturday afternoon, warned that snow mixed with ice pellets or freezing rain is expected in the Okanagan Valley starting Sunday.

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