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50 people, dozens of vehicles involved in fatal pileup on Coquihalla

coquihalla pileup
A multi-car pileup on the Coquihalla Highway Wednesday morning killed one individual and injured many others.

UPDATE: 11 a.m.

Police say about 50 people, including a police officer, were involved in a fatal crash Wednesday morning on the Coquihalla Highway east of Hope.

Crash investigators confirmed Thursday morning that the incident started with a report of a semi truck stopped in the northbound lanes of Highway 5 in the S-curves.

While a police officer was en route, a pickup truck crashed into the rear of the stopped semi truck.

“The road conditions in the area of the collision were treacherous and caught many unaware which resulted in a cascading, chain-reaction collision involving at least two dozen vehicles, including passenger vehicles, semi trucks, and a bus,” said Cpl. Mike Halskov.

As he was approaching the scene, the responding police officer was forced to “take evasive action” and crashed into the concrete barrier.

“The police car was then hit from behind by a jack-knifed semi truck that was not able to stop, injuring the police officer who watched through his rear-view mirror as he was about to be hit,” Cpl. Halskov.

RCMP say severe road and weather conditions “contributed significantly to this crash.”

And while slower speeds may not have prevented the crashes due to the highway being glare ice, slower speeds may have reduced injury.

The driver of the pickup (that struck the stopped semi), a man in his forties from the South Okanagan along with his dog died in the crash. Five people were taken to hospital with significant injuries, however only one remains in hospital with broken bones and is expected to recover. Of the remaining people involved, injuries ranged from minor to non-life threatening or requiring no medical intervention.

“Investigators report that they have received a significant amount of dash camera video from several sources that will aid the investigation however, at this time, no criminal charges are anticipated,” Halskov concluded.

ORIGINAL: 6:40 a.m.

A truck driver says he'll be haunted by the sounds of twisting metal and breaking glass after a "catastrophic" crash that killed one person and injured dozens more on the Coquihalla Highway, Wednesday.

The crash happened just before 10 a.m. near Hope, a stretch known for treacherous winter conditions.

Paramedics transported two patients to hospital by air in critical condition and three patients by ground in serious but stable condition. Crews also cared for another 34 patients with non-life-threatening injuries at the scene, Emergency Health Services said.

RCMP confirmed one person died of their injuries.

Mitchell Danilak, a truck driver from Leduc, Alta., said he was driving in the slow lane and was headed down a steep, curving hill when he saw a fellow truck driver waving his hands out the window at him as he drove by in the opposite direction.

Danilak began to slow down and was able to pull to a stop without crashing into the pileup of more than 20 vehicles in front of him, which included cars, a motor coach bus and a tractor-trailer jackknifed across a rock face, he said.

Then he said he saw a police cruiser come "flying" down the hill in the fast lane, crash into the guardrail and spin into the wreckage, followed by three other vehicles that did the same.

"It's just catastrophic," he said, speaking by phone from the scene on Wednesday.

"I've seen accidents and everything like that before, but nothing of this magnitude. The sounds are going to haunt to me for the next little while."

The 29-year-old described hearing glass shattering, metal crumpling and "smash, after smash, after smash."

"It's not how I wanted to start my morning."

Danilak said he was grateful that he was only carrying 36 tonnes of feed pellets, rather than the 45 tonnes he normally hauls, and that he didn't come barrelling down the hill.

He said the road was covered in hard-packed snow and was so icy that it was almost impossible to walk on.

The hill behind him on Wednesday afternoon was lit up by flashing lights, with police cruisers, tow trucks, fire rescue vehicles and even an ambulance in the ditch up against a rock wall, he added.

Emergency Health Services said multiple paramedic crews were dispatched to the scene, including 13 ground and three air ambulances, several supervisor units and multi-patient transit buses.

Crews assisted other first responders with the transport of more than 30 people to a nearby warming station in Hope.

RCMP Cpl. Mike Halskov said road and weather conditions in the area appeared to be a major contributing factor to the collision.

In addition to the person who died, several people sustained life-threatening injuries, and a number of others sustained injuries ranging from minor to non-life-threatening, Halskov said.

The highway reopened shortly before 10 p.m.

The Canadian Press