Rimbey, Alta. - A white metal cross had already been pounded into a central Alberta ditch early Wednesday afternoon marking the spot of a horrendous crash involving a gravel truck and a school bus that killed a 17-year-old girl.
The bus was picking up passengers on a fog-shrouded highway just northeast of the town of Rimbey when the truck slammed into the bus, crumpling its back and side into a twisted sheet of yellow and black metal and hurtling it into the ditch.
A huge gaping hole on the right side of the bus revealed four of the seats torn free of the metal floorboard and crushed together. Pieces of broken glass were scattered across the road while a series of black skid marks marred the highway for about 100 metres. The corner of the bus, ripped free by the force of the collision, was lying in the ditch.
Thirteen-year-old Jennifer Anderson and her two sisters had been waiting for the bus and she was walking down the aisle to her seat when the accident happened.
"I went to sit down and then just at that second glass and dirt was falling from the roof and I fell to the ground and started rolling," the teen said as she stood on the front porch of her parent's home, a couple of hundred metres from the crash site.
"My friend was yelling at everyone to move to the front because the back of the bus was all gone. Then two girls and a guy got launched out the back and were thrown on to the highway," she recalled.
"It was scary. They shouldn't have had the buses running, you couldn't hardly see the bus coming to pick us up," Jennifer added. Her sister, Jalaine, 15 was one of those who fell out on the highway. She said the girl who died was sitting in the last seat, where the crash occurred.
A 14-year-old boy was transferred to an Edmonton hospital in critical condition after the crash, which happened shortly after the bus made a stop on a fog-shrouded highway east of Rimbey.
The youth was thrown out of the bus and was trapped underneath the trailer of the gravel truck.
Carey Anderson, 46, was one of the first on the scene after his wife Judy heard the crash.
"There was people running around and screaming and kids were coming off the bus and it was chaos," he said quietly. "It was something out of a movie - you wouldn't want to experience it."
Anderson was counting his lucky stars that his daughters survived the accident.
"Somebody must have been looking out for us," Anderson said, his voice filled with emotion. "My three daughters are walking and talking and that's fortunate."
As two large tow trucks began removing the damaged vehicles, the RCMP accident reconstruction team was trying to piece together what happened. Three vehicles were involved in the crash.
"We had a bus, an SUV and this gravel truck with pup," said Cpl. Gordon Baker, pointing to the heavily damaged truck.
"What we had was the gravel truck colliding with the right rear corner of the SUV and spins it off (into the ditch) and then collides with the right rear corner of the school bus," he said.
Visibility was next to zero, noted Baker.
"Something like this is definitely a tragedy but because of the dense fog it certainly is a factor, whether it was the primary factor or the only factor is yet to be determined."
"I don't see any charges at this point but we're only at the first stages of the investigation," Baker said.
The crash killed Jennifer Dawn Noble, a Grade 12 student at Rimbey Junior/Senior High School.
"She was sitting in the back of the bus when the gravel truck rear-ended it," said her uncle, Keith Kreil. "She was a super kid. She was awesome. She was planning on going to college, she was funny, she was outgoing - it's hard to explain," he said. "She was just a good person all around."
Kreil said Jennifer loved animals and kept sheep, a dog and a cat on her family's Rimbey-area farm. The outgoing teen who loved to laugh had talked of become a veterinarian, he said.
"She was the only child in that family, very close to her mom and dad," he said, adding Jennifer and her mom took annual trips to Florida together.
Another student injured in the crash was taken to a Rimbey hospital in stable condition, said Elaine McFadden, spokeswoman for the David Thompson Health Region. The 11 other students who had been riding the bus were taken to a nearby farm house and then sent home with their parents.
Jacobs said the students ranged from elementary to high-school age and were on their way to three different schools in Rimbey, a town about 120 kilometres southwest of Edmonton.
The superintendent of the Wolf Creek School Division said students would be given grief counselling.