Bystanders put their own safety aside to help injured, says Hank Holowaychuk

A school bus crash that injured eight people on a highway outside Smoky Lake, Alta., has brought together an already tight-knit community, says the town's mayor, who was among the first on the scene.

Hank Holowaychuk said the crash was particularly emotional for some responders because they were neighbours helping neighbours.

"Everybody knows everybody," Holowaychuk told CBC News on Tuesday.

"Our first responders, they play hockey with some of the parents of these kids. They know the kids through work or whatever. It makes it a little more challenging when you go to these scenes."

Holowaychuk was quick to focus on those who stopped to help in the crucial moments on Monday morning, after the bus with 14 students on board struck a truck-mounted crane about five kilometres west of town.

"The heroes on that highway were the people that stopped to render aid," he said. "Putting their own safety aside, because it's a dangerous place; so we really want to thank them."

Several bystanders were already helping when Chief Scott Franchuk, of the Smoky Lake County fire department, arrived. Three volunteer fire departments in the county also sent crews.

"We had two patients that were trapped inside the bus," said Franchuk, one of the department's two full-time members.

"Our crew and the other emergency responders were able to do an extrication."

Eight people were taken to Edmonton hospitals after the crash, including five students who were listed in critical condition. There has been no further word on their conditions.

The two people in the other vehicle did not suffer any major injuries, officials said.

The students were on their way to H.A. Kostash School, a kindergarten to Grade 12 school in Smoky Lake. Two counsellors were at the school all day Tuesday, said Neil O'Shea, superintendent of Aspen View Public School Division #78.

The crash has raised concerns among parents across the province, he said.

"I think anybody who puts their child on the bus in the morning expects them to arrive to school safely. So I think when incidents like this happen ... [it] certainly raises their level of concern. I think that's across rural Alberta, to tell you the truth," he said.

Some other notable Alberta collisions involving school buses:

An investigation into Monday's crash is underway, the RCMP said.

A GoFundMe page has been started to help the families of those who were injured.

Smoky Lake is a town of 984 people, some 115 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

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