Friday, October 5, 2012

25 years ago today...

... about 50 of us were lucky to be alive. I was fortunate enough to be travelling in one of two buses with Cast C '87 of Up With People, an "international, educational and cultural program for young people" (still remember some of the shpiel) that was performing in Eastern Canada. I'll let my journal from 25 years ago today tell the story...

Oct 5/87

How is it to be in a bus accident? Well, mon Dieu, je n'aime pas ca! God has one heckuva sense of humour. And does look after us!

One moment, I was sleeping (well, dozing while listening to The Nylons on West's walkman) and the next, tumbling around the bus like laundry in a dryer drum, trying not to hurt anyone or get hurt myself.

After a moment that was an eternity, the bus stopped rolling. People were whimpering and crying and someone was shouting, "Stay calm, everybody." Vibeke was underneath me, and West on top. Sarah was crying hard... everyone was asking everyone, "are you okay?"

"People on top, stand up. We're getting out." The layers of people shifted and we slowly started moving to exits and windows. Vibeke sat down and closed her eyes. I had no shoes, having kicked them off before my intended nap. Concerned about Vibeke, I got her to go to the rear exit ahead of me -- and realized I was bleeding from the palm of my hand.

Ignoring the blood, I followed Vibeke's lead, climbing up on armrests and grabbing hands of people on top of the bus to be hoisted through the roof hatch. The other bus had seen the whole thing, and came to our rescue. Coming down from the top of our bus was a challenge because I was barefooted and there was glass all around. I stood on Bruce's shoulders and Gregoire caught me as I came down. Later I discovered that Gregoire was in worse shape than I was and had to be taken to hospital on a stretcher with a neck brace. Adrenaline, or perhaps shock, makes people do funny things.

I climbed up the side of the ditch in my bare feet, very aware that my glasses were nowhere useful... in the mess on the bus. But lucky! We were so lucky! The bus had hit a soft spot on a gravelled construction area and tipped down the embankment. There was a concrete ledge jutting out of the side of the ditch -- fortunately, the roof of the bus went over that or glass would have injured us all. The ditch was just deep enough that we rolled twice and landed right side up. The Laurentides are full of deeper ravines than the one our bus rolled into... Thank God we hit a shallow one!

I stood around on the top of the bank trying to help people calm down until people from the other bus who had first aid training took over... and I wandered around rather blindly, wondering what to do and where my glasses had ended up. It got to be too much for me -- people crying and the "gawkers" who had stopped to see what happened -- I had to get away. I was starting to cry and wandering off when Allie found me, sat me in a van and brought me two shoes that didn't match at all. One belonged to Alain, and one to Rejean, I think. Jen Flan fixed my hand and I wandered around some more. So many of us were zombies, in shock... 

They started to pull luggage from the bus -- my carry on was nearby, so I found my camera and took a picture or two. Someone found my shoes -- and my glasses, too. I am having fun looking through the scratch lines right now.

The ambulances were being loaded when a tour bus with enough room for cast members from the rolled bus pulled up. We threw all the luggage we could onto that bus, but not enough...

Lots of tears on arrival in Chicoutimi. Host families who were to billet us had no idea what was going on, and neither did we.

Host family briefing on the accident happened while we had a short info meeting -- who was in hospital, who would stay where... etc. I met host-sister Chantal and host Dad -- and couldn't find my luggage, though I found one of my roomie Cathrin's suitcases. We came home and had supper, and I phoned home and told Lynnell what had happened. Then we went and collected Cathrin from the hospital.

We are so lucky. Praying for our busdriver, who likely got the worst of it, but other than him, it seems we're okay -- a few broken bones, lots of bruises, and a bus in the ravine. It could have been much, much worse. Thank you, God, for keeping us all (mostly) safe.

* * * * * * *

To this day (October 5, 2012), I'm amazed at our good fortune -- there have been several other bus accidents in the Laurentians since 1987, some with many fatalities, each reminding me how lucky I am to still be here. In the end, we lost our castmate, Sandy, from Winnipeg, who couldn't continue with us because of migraines from a fractured skull. My room mate in Chicoutimi, Cathrin, had a cracked sternum, and complained good-naturedly every time our host family or I made her laugh.

The most interesting thing to me as I read through my journal is that, up until that point, we hadn't really gelled as a group. But the accident brought us all new perspective about what was really important, and we became a more caring and cohesive clan, many of us life-long friends. 25 years later, I'm thinking of my cast buddies today... one more reason for me to be thankful this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. Hugs to you all!


  1. HiMaria,I remember my hands upside down on the ceiling and the final rapid flip that brought me crashing down on Pete's leg preventing my injury but causing him a nasty hemitoma. A host pickup one of the host Moms was unsympathetic. She thought it was disasterous for us that we were crying. When I tried to explain to her about the accident we were in , she said gruffly"that's no excuse. You're Up With People. It looks bad that you're crying. You should have a stiff upper lip." I walked away; I didn't cry until years later when a friend was recounting her similar bus accident with the Notre Dame women's swim team. She survived with a broken back. Two of her teammates died. As she recounted how her bus rolled slowly at first the gaining speed. I was right back in it, and tears were running down my face. Finally I dealt with all that emotion I had buried so deep. We were so lucky.

    1. Amen to that, Ginger... That was NOT a helpful host mom! I remember my hands on the ceiling, too, like doing cartwheels... do you remember the bruise fashion show at the swimming pool in Chicoutimi? It took me a few years to completely get over "the left turn lean" startle reaction on buses... we were so lucky.


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