Three people have been killed and two people are seriously injured after a Western Forest Products logging train derailed Thursday morning in Woss, a hamlet between Port McNeill and Campbell River.
RCMP confirmed Friday morning that one of three men flown to hospital has died, bringing the total fatalities from Thursday's derailment to three. Two men remain in hospital.
The train was in a re-load yard when it suddenly rolled down the tracks and collided with a track maintenance car where men were working. The collision caused logs to spill across the railway tracks, trapping at least three workers underneath, said Woss regional district director David Rushton.
“A whole load of logs came down and trapped some guys,” said Rushton, a retired logger.
“I know everybody involved, the whole community does. It’s a tough time for our little community.” He said it’s too early to identify the victims.
B.C. Ambulance unit chief Nat Pottage said by the time he arrived, two men had been rescued from under the logs. It took about 60 loggers, firefighters, police and paramedics just under five hours to get the last man out from under the logs, he said.
Western Forest Products crews used excavators to carefully remove logs one by one so the pile didn’t collapse.
“It was a bad scene and all things considered it went well,” Pottage said.
“The RCMP would like to acknowledge the significant efforts by first responders to deal with those trapped,” said RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Tammy Douglas.
Paramedics were called to the area of Cougar Crescent just before 9 a.m. Two people were airlifted to Victoria General Hospital while one person was transported to Campbell River hospital via ground ambulance.
Dr. Brendan Carr, CEO and president of Island Health, said this morning that he wants to thank the doctors, nurses, clinical and support teams and site leaders “who responded with professionalism and compassion.”
“I would also like to acknowledge the emergency response efforts of the residents of Woss and neighbouring communities, the RCMP and victim services, BC Emergency Health Services, North Island Critical Incident Response Network, North Island Crisis and Counselling teams and all of those who rallied during this crisis,” Carr said. “Woss is a very small community and this tragic accident will no doubt have a devastating impact on all residents in the region,”
Counsellors from the Upper Island Counselling Services Society are in Woss today offering support to anyone who needs it. Woss has a population of under 200 people.
Rushton was initially told his 21-year-old grandson, Lucas, was among the crew members, but it turned out he had switched to another crew at the last minute Thursday morning.
“All I know is my grandson is home now and I never hugged him so hard,” he said. Lucas, who has worked for the company for about two years, is now concerned for his friends, Rushton said.
The aftermath of the derailment was confined to the railway area, but it “came too close for comfort to some of the homes,” Rushton said.
It’s unclear what caused the logging train to hit the track maintenance car and derail. “The cause of the incident remains under investigation and the area has been cordoned off,” Douglas said.
The RCMP, B.C. Coroners Service, Work Safe B.C. and the Transportation Safety Board are all investigating .
Western Forest Products president and CEO Don Demens said in a statement: “At this time, we express our deepest concern and condolences to the families, friends, and co-workers of those whose lives were lost this morning and who are injured. Our hearts and minds are with them.”
In an earlier statement, Demens said: “The safety and security of our staff and the communities where we work are paramount. We are cooperating fully with all authorities and will continue to do so.
Work Safe B.C. spokeswoman Trish Chernecki said the agency received a call from the RCMP at 9:54 a.m. “about a serious incident at a worksite in Woss.” Work Safe investigators were dispatched.
The train was travelling on the Englewood Railway, a 90-kilometre logging line which runs from Vernon Lake, through Woss, past Nimpkish Lake Provincial Park to Beaver Cove. It’s believed to be the last operating logging railway in North America.
Rushton, who has been regional director for 15 years, said there have been minor derailments in the past “but nothing like this.”