What Aldergrove resident, Charles Ford, describes as “15 minutes of insanity,” will likely be a Friday hard to forget for him, and dozens of wedding guests.
The 40-year-old neighbour, who was working in the backyard of his aunt’s property, and was taken back by a large “boom.”
“Though my back was to the house, when I turned around I could see people running,” Ford recollected.
“They were running from the front of the house to the back,” Ford elaborated.
At least one person was seriously injured and almost 40 victims – from age 15 to 83 – were hurt when a deck collapsed Friday at about 5:40 p.m., during a wedding celebration in the 5800-block of 268th Street in Aldergrove, said Langley RCMP spokesman Cpl. Craig van Herk.
“Nearly 40 guests, ranging from children to elderly, sustained injuries; two to three were in critical condition with one being air lifted to hospital, 12 to 15 were classified as being in serious condition, and numerous other sustained minor injuries,” van Herk elaborated.
Reacting, Ford followed his instincts and grabbed some emergency medical supplies, including gauze and medical tape from his aunt’s home.
Quickly running over to offer aid, he came upon what he called a state of disbelief.
“At least 60 people were lying, injured on the ground below a deck that had collapsed. There were more people lying than there were people able to help them,” Ford explained.
“People in the family were hugging and comforting each other. A lot of people were tending to their wives or daughters,” he added.
Within a matter of minutes, more neighbours came to the aid of those injured.
“It felt like every neighbour we knew had come to help,” said Ford, who teamed up with a male wedding guest to move those injured and responsive away to safety, fearing the other side of the deck might also come crashing to the ground.
“Even with the language barrier, we knew what to do,” Ford said.
“It was insane, there was so many people hurt that I couldn’t believe it.”
Ford then took notice of two elderly women, both lying on their backs, and in need of medical assistance.
“One was drifting in-and-out of consciousness, with her eyes fluttering and a gash was bleeding profusely from her ankle,” Ford said. He was quick to put pressure on the wound with gauze.
The second senior was unconscious on the ground.
About that time, one of the wedding guests announced she was a doctor, and many of the bystanders kicked into action, helping and taking instructions from the doctor.
Ford approximates that within 10 minutes, a convoy of ambulances, fire trucks and police cars arrived.
“The EMT’s starting tagging people, in priority one and two,” Ford recalled. And, after 10 minutes of assisting, Ford was released by paramedics.
“I was exhausted,” Ford admitted, “but I didn’t mind doing what I did. I expect somebody to do that for me if I’m ever in trouble in my community.”
Responders remained on the scene for more than 24 hours to secure the site.
There’s no indication yet why the deck collapsed or exactly how many people were on it when it did, but on Saturday the scene was inspected and the area around it declared safe by a Township engineer.
Investigators will now be looking into the cause of the incident, but it is not thought to be a criminal or deliberate incident, van Herk said.
“Although the investigation into the incident is in the preliminary stages, there does not appear to be any overt criminal actions that caused the collapse,” van Herk said, noting only limited updates have been made available to investigators regarding the status of those who were injured.
Families of those injured in the Aldergrove deck collapse are looking after one another in the aftermath of the incident, police say.
RCMP victim services staff and volunteers were available, but van Herk is not sure how many people asked for their aid.
Ford, a local of Aldergrove for four decades, is glad he was able to help.
The night before, on Thursday, Ford remembers seeing the family setting up wedding arrangements on the exterior of the house.
“They’ve had weddings there before and tons of people on the large, and reinforced deck. There’s always been no problems,” Ford said.
Still now, coral and white drapery and florals adorns the front door of the house, which was once so full of jubilant celebration.
“These neighbours are always so welcoming and fun,” Ford said, recalling times when he would bring his niece and nephew over to a lively wedding ceremony held within the home.
“I felt sad that this is someone’s wedding day. It’s not supposed to happen like this,” Ford said.