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Bus plunges into ravine in Quebec, 43 dead

October 14, 1997

ST-JOSEPH-DE-LA-RIVE, Quebec (AP) _ A bus carrying senior citizens on a Thanksgiving Day trip to view the fall foliage plunged into a ravine Monday in Quebec, killing 43 of the 48 people aboard.

Quebec provincial police said the accident took place in the afternoon about 60 miles northeast of Quebec City. The bus was traveling on Highway 138 and crashed at the bottom of a steep hill heading into a hard right curve.

Real Ouellette, a Quebec provincial police spokesman, said faulty brakes appeared to have caused the tragedy. There were no skid marks at the bottom of the dangerous hill, the same place where 13 people, also elderly, died in an accident 20 years ago.

The five survivors of Monday’s crash were transported to a hospital in Quebec City, and were listed in serious condition Monday night.

The accident was the deadliest in Canada in recent memory. The passengers, who belonged to a senior citizens club in the Beauce region southeast of Quebec City, were on an outing for Canada’s Thanksgiving holiday, Ouellette said.

Conditions on the twisting road were dry and the weather was sunny. The hill has a steep grade and is marked by warning signs. Automobile drivers usually take it in first gear and even then brake frequently.

The bus was headed for Ile aux Coudres, a vacation island in the St. Lawrence River, where the changing colors of the leaves is especially brilliant this time of year.

The island is reached by ferry from St-Joseph-de-la-Rive, a small town with a maritime museum, restaurants, gift shops and farms. The area is popular with tourists.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien expressed his condolences to relatives of Monday’s victims.

``We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of those who lost their lives,″ he said in a brief statement. ``Our thoughts and prayers are with them.″

Andre Castonguay, a witness who arrived shortly after the accident, said there was a 60-foot drop from the highway to the spot where the Mercier bus landed.

``I looked out the window and saw the bus,″ he said. ``It didn’t make the turn and it fell into the hole.″

Castonguay, his son and others immediately rushed to the scene to help the injured.

``There was absolutely no reaction from inside the bus,″ said Rev. Jean Moisan, one of the first people to reach the vehicle. ``I didn’t hear anyone crying for help.″

Dr. Stephane Maurice, who initially treated the victims at a local hospital, said the 43 _ 30 men and 13 women _ died from head and chest injuries.

The body of the bus driver, one of the 43 killed, will be taken to Montreal for an autopsy.

A 1974 accident at the same location took 13 lives. Moisan, a local parish priest for 30 years, remembered that crash, apparently caused by engine trouble.

``The worst is having to come back here tonight,″ he said. ``It is horrible to realize nothing was done.″

At the site Monday, there was renewed anger that nothing had been done to make the hill safer _ only a low guard rail exists at the bottom of the hill.

``They are going to have to do something about this now,″ Moisan said.

Emergency workers and passersby helped shuttle bodies from the bus, which was propped on its side in the ravine between the hill and an elevated length of railroad track that straddles a tributary of the St. Lawrence.

In the last three decades, only one other Canadian road crash has killed more than 40 people. In 1978, 41 physically and mentally handicapped people drowned after the brakes on their chartered bus failed and the vehicle plunged into a lake near Eastman, Quebec.

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