Miracle on the Coquihalla


According to Interior Health four patients remain in Okanagan facilities.

Three are stable and one remains in critical condition at this time. 


A popular TV show has referred to the Coquihalla as the 'Highway Thru Hell', and cites the dangerous driving conditions and many lives that it has claimed. When a tour bus crashed on the route two weeks ago, a team of professionals and deputized volunteers stepped in, preventing the highway's death toll from rising further.

At the heart of the roadside triage were five emergency-trained doctors who just happened to all be on the highway at the same time as the crash.

Two of the those doctors from Kelowna are now sharing their miraculous stories of being at the right place at the right time.

Dr. Matthew Petrie is an ER doctor at Kelowna General Hospital. He was driving on the highway with his partner – an ER nurse – when the accident happened, and says it was utter chaos when he arrived at the scene.

“Cars started slowing down and pulling over at random spots on the side of the highway. There were people laying on the ground and people in the bus, and it became quite clear there had been a big crash.”

The doctor was quickly put in charge of the scene and his mass catastrophe training kicked in.

“Walking onto the bus was sort of a surreal experience certainly; there were so many injured people, both on the ground and in the bus. It was like a movie scene. There was blood everywhere, people strewn all over the inside of the bus. All the glass on the left side of the bus was completely smashed, there were belongings everywhere. It was shocking for sure,” explains Petrie.

It would take a miracle to save everyone.

And moments after Petrie arrived, the miracle happened. Four other ER trained doctors drove up to the scene and rushed to help.

The newly formed team assessed the crash scene and began mass casualty triage with other first responders and good Samaritans.

The miracle workers included: Dr. Patricia Murphy from Comox, Dr. Ross MacDonald from Salmon Arm, Dr. Grant Pagdin from Kelowna and a trauma surgeon from Abbotsford.

Dr. Pagdin was further up the highway and arrived on the scene about 15 minutes after the crash occurred.

“It was really fortuitous that five of us with emerg training were there and able to triage and stabilize the patients,” says Pagdin. “We certainly had tons of resources – helicopters coming in and out, lots of ambulances, lots of emergency personnel, nurses stepping forward – we had the resources we needed.”

The team of doctors were able to organize patients into groups based on the severity of their injuries. The most critically injured were prepared for immediate transport.

Petrie says it wasn't just the emergency professionals working at the crash site; volunteer members from the public did phenomenal work.

The language barrier made it near impossible for emergency personnel to keep the injured organized and together with their family members. He says that's when other motorists were called in.

Volunteers who had no medical experience were asked to stay with an injured person and not leave. It allowed doctors to have some continuity. They became that one injured person's life-line and communicator with the health-care professionals.

Petrie says there were at least 150 "amazing" people on-site helping.

“It was really wonderful actually, the amount of people that came out from the woodwork saying they are a nurse or they have first-aid training. It was really lovely to see peoples' willingness to help, I thought it was really wonderful,” says Petrie.

Both doctors say they are still sort of stunned by how many doctors just happened to be there.

“The timing of these things, I always wonder about from a cosmic standpoint. What factors came together that we all happened to be, at that time, at that place, when that happened, is certainly a cause for reflection,” says Petrie.

“We just happened to be there, we were just traveling. You know, four people with emerg training being there struck me as unusual, you know, it was quite fortuitous,” adds Pagdin.

All 55 patients survived the terrifying crash.

Reports indicate that all those who were in critical condition are now stable, but some are still in intensive care and will require longer hospital stays.

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