Students who died in Vancouver Island bus crash remembered for love of natural world

First-year biology students John Geerdes, from Iowa City, Iowa, and Emma Machado, from Winnipeg died when a bus went off the road near Bamfield on Friday.

The University of Victoria will hold a community gathering today in the wake of a bus crash near Bamfield on Friday that left two students dead and more than a dozen injured.

University officials said the event, organized in collaboration with the University of Victoria Students’ Society, will provide a space for students, faculty and staff to unite and reflect. It will be held from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. at BiblioCafé, on the ground floor of the Mearns Centre for Learning.

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“As the university continues to grieve and come together over the tragic accident Sept. 13, it is with a heavy heart that I share that the young people who died were first-year biology students John Geerdes, 18, from Iowa City, Iowa, and Emma Machado, also 18, from Winnipeg, Manitoba,” Robin Hicks, acting dean of the Faculty of Science, said in a statement.

“Although they had just begun their academic studies at UVic, both of these students demonstrated a love of marine biology and a passion for the natural world.”

The students were travelling to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre on Vancouver Island’s west coast when a charter bus carrying 45 students and two teaching assistants crashed on a gravel road between the communities of Port Alberni and Bamfield late Friday.

Geerdes and Machado died at the scene. More than a dozen other students were injured. 

Geerdes, who graduated from Iowa City High School this year before enrolling at the University of Victoria, is being remembered as a talented soccer player.

John Bacon, Geerdes’s former principal, emailed parents and students on Saturday after learning about the crash and a crisis team is providing counseling to the high school’s 1,600 students.

Bacon said Geerdes has four siblings.

Jose Michel Fajardo, of the IC City High Men’s Soccer association, posted a note on social media to soccer families to say that Geerdes was beloved by teammates and students at the school.

Farjardo praised Geerdes as a leader and hard worker, calling him a "never give up person, showing others the way to succeed."

“John was truly an amazing, kind, intelligent, talented, special human being,” wrote Fajardo. “I know I speak for all of us when I say that our deepest thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

An active volunteer at her school, Winnipeg's Balmoral Hall School, Machado also took part in service learning expeditions to places including Costa Rica.

“She genuinely cared about the causes she allied herself with and I think she was such an excellent role model to our younger students in so many ways — in the classroom, outside of the classroom, and beyond in her plans for post-secondary life,”  said Jennifer Pawluk, a communications manager at the school.

“She was a lovely person to be around,” she said. “She had a smile that lit up any room she walked into and the younger students especially adored her.”

Machado graduated in June and was full of excitement for her future at the University of Victoria. “She was very excited to study oceanography, and marine biology and earth science and the many things that program offers,” said Pawluk. “Clearly it was something she was very much looking forward to.”

Machado spent the past summer working as a day camp leader at the Manitoba Museum, where she had been a volunteer for at least five years.

“She was just absolutely wonderful, honestly, in every single way,” said Rachel Erickson, the museum’s manager of learning and engagement. “She was just so easy-going and professional and completely wise beyond her years.”

Erickson said Machado and her fellow camp leaders put in long days all summer without complaint.  “You know, I have her name badge sitting here, waiting for next summer, and I can’t even believe it.”  

Brandon McNabb was one of the two teaching assistants on the bus. He was unharmed.

“My heart goes out to everyone involved in this tragedy; so many people are affected beyond the 48 of us who were on that bus when it rolled,” he wrote on a social media account.

McNabb said every student was “incredibly brave.”

“Between providing emotional support for one another and those who assisted in first aid, you helped make the best of an extremely traumatic and chaotic situation,” said McNabb.

In a statement, the RCMP said the driver of a second vehicle who was in the area at the time of the crash remained at the scene.

The crash remains under investigation, but police say alcohol has been ruled out as a contributing factor.

The coroners service said in a statement that no further information about the victims would be provided until its investigation is concluded.

The university began offering counselling services to survivors on Sunday after they returned to the Victoria campus. It said additional support would be offered to help students continue their studies.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

— With a file from The Canadian Press

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