What began this morning as a scenic tour of the east coast by 33 cruise passengers very nearly ended up in disaster, with only the skill and poise of the tour bus driver preventing a repeat of the 2007 Joe’s River, St Joseph catastrophe.
A split-second decision by Foster & Ince Cruise Services driver Hampden Clarke to crash the out-of-control bus into a wall at Cleaver’s Hill, St Joseph may well have saved the lives of the 31 adults and two children – an infant and an eight-year-old.
The incident occurred about 10:45 this morning as the Carnival Cruise Line passengers were on a tour coordinated by Foster & Ince Cruise Services.
The company’s Chief Executive Officer Martin Ince has since confirmed that the brakes failed and Clarke, who has been a tour bus driver with the company for close to 12 years, “used his experience and he actually went into one of the walls and stopped the bus”.
The driver’s composure and ability and the diligence of tour guide Allison Trotman-Edwards were hailed by the passengers, most of whom escaped with minor scrapes and scratches, although two of them, a 38-year-old and a 70-year-old, both females, had to be taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital by ambulance.
When Barbados TODAY arrived at the scene about two hours after the crash, both Clarke and Trotman-Edwards had lost their composure and visibly shaken, as the reality of the potentially deadly event hit them. As a result, neither would comment on the accident.
However, one Bathsheba, St Joseph resident told Barbados TODAY had it not been for the manner in which Clarke handled the situation, the vehicle might well have plunged over the cliff into the sea below.
In addition, several of the visitors praised the valiant efforts of both the driver and the tour guide.
“We were coming down that hill, we got a little fast and it seemed even faster. The tour guide said something and the bus driver said we have no brakes and as we come around the curb it was way too fast. Then the tour guide got up and went behind the driver and he went into the wall to keep us from going down the hill,” Brandon Lewis, one of the shaken passengers, recounted.
“The biggest thing for me was making sure we didn’t spin and the bus did not turn over. The driver did an excellent job of taking us into the wall and slowing us down” Lewis added.
For Lauren Glover of Virginia in the United States, this was the second near-death experience on this trip.
Glover said she feared she would have drowned yesterday when her mask failed while snorkelling in St Lucia yesterday. She was saved by her husband who pulled her out of the water.
Yet again, she was grateful that her life was spared, this time because of the quick action of a skilful driver.
“He is a good bus driver and the tour guide calmly settled every one down. It was not as terrible a day as it could have been,” she said.
Even before Clarke crashed the tour bus into the wall, Amaal Alleyne, who was at the Bathsheba home where she has lived for two years, knew that something was wrong.
Alleyne is used to the traffic going down the hill, and she said by the sound of the vehicle “careening down the hill” she could tell there were problems.
“We hear buses come down the hill every day and I knew that one sounded too fast, and when I looked out my window I saw it careening down the hill and I heard it crash. I just threw on my slippers and rushed over . . . to see if everyone was okay. I couldn’t believe the bus was still standing. I thought for sure it was going to flip over,” she said.
Another resident, Edison Mayers, was among the first to respond to the incident.
He told Barbados TODAY despite fearing the worst he sprang into action in an attempt to get the passengers out of the bus.
“I had to go inside and get a ripping iron and try to open up the door . . . . I did what I could. My first response was to get everybody out because everybody was just piling up,” Mayers said. “I was scared.”
However, everyone was thankful that their worst fears were not realized, not least among them, Glover.
In fact, she was in high spirits and was anxious to continue her adventure on the seven-day cruise. And even though she had felt for a moment that she was about to die, she figured their was no place better to meet her end.
“It has been an adventurous time but it has still been a beautiful time,” Glover told Barbados TODAY.
“I thought that if I were to go that it would be a really pretty place to go. But I knew the bus was going to crash. It could have been a lot worse,” she stressed.
On Sunday, July 29, 2007, six people were killed and 37 injured when the Barbados Transport Co-Operative Society coach in which they were travelling careened down the slope and crashed into a wall at Joe’s River. The group were on the way to the Party Monarch finals on the east coast.
It was one of the worst traffic accidents in the history of the island.