1997 Les Éboulements bus accident

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Les Éboulements bus accident
Details
Date October 13, 1997 (1997-10-13)
Location Les Éboulements, Quebec
Statistics
Vehicles Transport Bus
Passengers 48
Deaths 44 (including the driver)
Injuries 4

The 1997 Les Éboulements bus accident, also known as the St. Joseph Bus Accident, occurred on Thanksgiving Day, October 13, 1997, in Les Éboulements (St-Joseph-de-la-Rive), Quebec, Canada. 44 died as a result of the accident, making it the deadliest road accident in Canadian history.[1]

Accident[edit]

The bus, carrying members of a Golden Age Club on an overnight leaf peeping trip, had traveled on Quebec Highways 138 and 362 from Saint-Bernard-de-Beauce headed for the Île aux Coudres. It was traveling down Côte des Éboulements, which had a steep hill with a sharp right turn at the base. The time was 1:45 pm, and the roads were dry and clear. The driver, André Desruisseaux, was unable to slow the bus to negotiate the curve, and the bus collided with the guardrail, smashed through it and plunged over 10 meters into a ravine. It landed, slid on its right side and came to rest beside an elevated railway line. The crash and fall slammed the occupants violently around the interior of the vehicle, injuring most of them fatally. No skid marks were found on the road at the site of the crash, leading authorities to immediately suspect brake failure. Witnesses also reported the smell of burning brake fluid coming from the bus.[2]

There were 48 people aboard the bus, including the driver. Five survived the crash initially,[3] however one of them succumbed to their injuries a month later.[4] All the victims were senior citizens from the small village of Saint-Bernard-de-Beauce, except for the 29-year-old bus driver, who was from Sherbrooke.[5]

A similar accident had occurred in 1974 at the very same spot and had resulted in 15 deaths. Given the context, many were angry that nothing had been done to make the road safer since that time.

Inquiry[edit]

An inquiry into the accident was ordered by the Government of Quebec and was headed by coroner Luc Malouin,[6] but the provincial government immediately announced plans to rebuild the road to improve safety by relocating it and eliminating the sharp curve. The cause of the accident was determined to be brake failure[7] - the coroner determined that brakes only had 30 percent of their braking capacity, and that André Mercier, owner of the bus company Autobus Mercier, was not competent in managing his bus fleet.[8] Also contributing to the accident was the driver's exhaustion: he had less than 5 hours of sleep the night before the crash, and had been putting in over-50-hour work-weeks.[9] On March 23, 1999, the coroner released his final report on the accident, maintaining his initial conclusions. He made several recommendations,[10] but rebuilding the road was not among them.[11]

Controversy[edit]

Litigation by environmental groups who contested the government decision not to hold consultations and studies regarding the environmental impact of the work resulted in a one-year delay before road work could begin.[12] Work began on June 7, 1999. Because the coroner had made no recommendations regarding the road, the government was criticized for spending public money in a wasteful manner.[13]

Road improvements[edit]

The road is now separated with a Jersey barrier and the slope has been reduced on the hill. All vehicles are required to stop before proceeding down the hill, and commercial vehicles are required to verify the correct operation of their brakes.[14]

There are plans to build a lookout which would include an official memorial site near the location of the accident providing a safe location for motorists who wish to visit the site. As of 2009, the lookout is now fully built and used for sightseeing. There is also a memorial built there for the victims of the accident, and the lookout offers an amazing view on l'Île-aux-Coudres [15]shoulder.

Notes[edit]

All links retrieved on November 3, 2006.

Coordinates: 47°27′47.21″N 70°20′22.09″W / 47.4631139°N 70.3394694°W / 47.4631139; -70.3394694