'One of the worst nights of my life,' says mom reflecting on N.L. bus crash 7 years ago

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A Corner Brook woman is speaking out for the first time to offer her thanks to first responders who helped rescue her and others who were aboard a charter bus that crashed in central Newfoundland seven years ago this past weekend.

The bus — carrying members of the Silver Blades Skating Club to competition in Clarenville — went off the Trans-Canada Highway on Feb. 5, 2015, in wet, stormy weather and rolled down an embankment a few kilometres west of Grand Falls-Windsor.

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Janice Galliott and her two young daughters, ages six and eight, were among the 56 people on the bus when it crashed, and they and the others aboard suffered injuries that were described at the time as mostly minor, although two people were airlifted to St. John’s.

Despite emerging mostly physically unscathed, Galliott says healing has taken time.

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“It’s been seven years and it’s probably one of the worst nights of my life,” said Galliott. “I certainly want to express my gratitude for the people who helped us out that night.”

Career call

Vince MacKenzie, the fire chief in Grand Falls-Windsor, said memories of the bus crash have often flashed back to him over the years, and he’s wondered about the recovery of people aboard the bus and how they’re doing now.

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MacKenzie was among the many first responders and volunteers who responded to assist at the accident scene.

He said the skating club’s bus crash will stand out among the many calls he’s responded to throughout his 39-year career as a firefighter as the only mass casualty incident that involved more than five patients.

It was “almost like going into a horror film,” MacKenzie told CBC News in a recent interview.

“There was people on the side of the road in various stages of dress. Some were in pyjamas, some had just stocking feet, stood up on the slush and in the rain,” he said.

MacKenzie said the emergency response that night was something to be proud of, as first responders quickly ensured that everyone was off the bus, and then used ambulances, fire trucks and other vehicles to take people to the hospital in nearby Grand Falls-Windsor.

“It was such a cold night that we had to get these folks off the road and into warm shelter,” he recalled.

'One of the worst nights of my life,' says mom reflecting on N.L. bus crash 7 years ago
© CBC A firefighter for nearly 40 years, Vince MacKenzie refers to the bus crash involving skaters from Corner Brook as one of his ‘career calls,’ with the highest number of casualties, but fortunately no fatalities.

Could have been much worse

Both the fire chief and parent acknowledge that, as awful as it was, things could have been much worse.

“It’s definitely a scary feeling, and certainly an awful feeling and, every time I think about it, of course, it’s certainly emotional,” said Galliott.

Galliott said one of the most frantic moments for her was when she didn’t know where her daughters were, as she and one of her daughters got out through a broken window and her other daughter escaped a different way.

“My instinct was to get my girls and get to a safe spot. I just wanted to exit as quickly as what I could, get my girls, and then go up to the side of the highway,” she recalled.

Other things that stand out for her, said Galliott, are the cold temperatures as they waited to be taken to hospital and also the crowded and chaotic emergency room at the hospital in Grand Falls-Windsor, as people aboard the bus were all taken there to be assessed and treated.

MacKenzie said the Humboldt bus tragedy just three years after the Silver Blades crash was proof of how much worse it could have been.

He said the fatal bus crash in Alberta, which killed 16 people and injured 13 others, was very difficult for first responders everywhere, but MacKenzie said it was particularly emotional for his colleagues who had responded to the accident in central Newfoundland, given the similarities with both crashes involving a group of young athletes on their way to competition.

Moving on

Galliott is careful to say that she can speak about the accident and its impact only from her own family’s perspective, and that other families may have grappled with the aftermath of the crash in different ways.

Galliott’s two daughters continue to participate in sports, including figure skating, and that sometimes requires them to travel for competition, which they continue to do.

“Sometimes it’s tricky and it’s hard,” said Galliott.

“That was a very tough night for us,” she said, but noted the passage of time has helped assuage the family’s fears.

“Seven years later, where we are today … we’re doing OK.”

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