A 25-year-old Bowser man was “very lucky” to be sent to hospital after the SUV he was driving left Highway 19 just before the Little Qualicum River Bridge and rolled more than 200 feet down an embankment before coming to rest on its roof Tuesday afternoon.
Qualicum Beach Fire Department was called at 12:40 p.m. May 23 and was eventually joined at the scene by the Coombs-Hilliers Volunteer Fire Department, Oceanside RCMP and BC Ambulance Service.
“I talked to a witness, a fellow on a motorcycle who witnessed it,” said Qualicum Beach Fire Department chief Darryl Kohse. “He pointed to the south side of the bridge and said the car launched off the bridge. It was a gradual slope, but apparently the vehicle rolled multiple times before coming to a stop on its roof.”
The driver was travelling southbound to Victoria, said Kohse. Southbound traffic was halted for about 40 minutes, RCMP added, before single-lane traffic was restored as the man was extracted from the 1996 GMC Yukon.
Kohse said the extraction required peeling open the entire driver’s side of the vehicle, and was made more difficult by the long hike down to the crash site.
“We’ve got equipment that we can run with our trucks,” said Kohse. “But because of the location of the vehicle, we had to work with our portable gear. There was a lot of hiking up and down the hill.”
Police said Tuesday afternoon the accident remains under investigation, though alcohol and drugs do not appear to be a factor. RCMP said they driver was the lone occupant of the SUV, and no other vehicles were involved.
At one point a helicopter hovered over the scene, but the man was not medivaced to hospital. Instead, first responders hiked him back up the hill in a stretcher. He was loaded into an ambulance and, Kohse said, taken to Qualicum Beach Airport to be flown to hospital in either Vancouver or Victoria.
“I think he has a broken shoulder, and some kind of back injury,” Kohse said.
The driver remained conscious throughout the extraction, though RCMP said he was “in significant discomfort.”
“You always have a concern when you come upon a scene like this,” Kohse said. “He was very lucky, very fortunate to be in the condition he’s in. He was coherent, he knew what day it was, he could talk to us and knew where his injuries were. But he was very, very lucky.”
The man was wearing his seat belt, Kohse added.
“I know, because I cut it off.”
The driver may also have been fortunate due to the quick response by the firefighters. Kohse said some members of the department were at the firehall having a lunch when the call came in.
“We were out the door pretty quickly,” he said.
Initially, Kohse said, firefighters were unsure where the vehicle was located. The crash scene could not be seen from the highway unless an observer walked right to the concrete barrier and looked straight down.
“We called in the Coombs-Hilliers Fire Department,” he said. “There’s another road access to the bottom of the bridge from the Coombs side, and we asked them to come that way at first. But once we determined where the vehicle was, we determined we needed them probably up here to assist with manpower.”