A 13-year-old Manitoba boy is being hailed as a hero after he walked through a snowstorm to get help for 24 fellow students stranded in a school bus.
Alexi Catellier was the oldest student on the bus, which became stuck in the snow on the side of a rural road near the community of Sandilands during the storm on Oct. 4.
The heavy snow snapped hydro poles and lines, cutting power to thousands of Manitobans in an area where cellphone service is typically spotty and unreliable.
The school bus, operated by First Student Canada, was stuck for about 5½ hours starting in the afternoon.
While the driver tried to free the vehicle, Catellier said he and two other students tried to keep the others calm.
"It was definitely nerve-wracking …You have to keep the kids calm, because otherwise the bus driver won't be able to do his job," Catellier told CBC News in an interview.
"At one point, most of the kids had cried themselves to sleep because they were hungry, they tired, they were thirsty, wanting their parents."
There were a total of 25 students on the bus, ranging in age from five to 13, from the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine and the Seine River School Division.
Melted snow for water
Catellier said he and two classmates melted snow into empty bottles when they ran out of water.
In the meantime, the bus driver was trying to free the wheels of the bus from the snow. He would dig away then get back on the bus and attempt to drive out, but the bus would slip further into deeper snow.
Catellier said by about 8 p.m., he realized there was no other option but to set out on foot for help.
"The way the wind was blowing, and with the snow, it was freezing cold. And I was just wearing running shoes, track pants, a thin sweater and a little fall jacket," he recalled.
He eventually came across a man who then notified CN Rail workers in the area.
Catellier went back to the bus and, along with two others, carried some of the young children — including his five-year-old brother, Bevan — to a nearby home so they could warm up and use the washroom.
The CN Rail workers later came along and pulled the bus out of the snow.
School officials say after the bus was back on the road, the last student was dropped off at home at around 10:30 p.m.
Incident being reviewed
Catellier's mom, Tatiana, said she is proud of her son but she wants a review by the school division of what happened.
"I'm glad that he did it, and I'm glad that he had the potential to do it. But I'm not happy that he was in that position, and put in that position," she said.
Tatiana Catellier said school officials need to review emergency preparedness procedures on buses.
"Heaven forbid someone was diabetic and needed insulin," she said. "We'd have a real problem with no food, no water and no medical facility anywhere around."
Officials with the Division Scolaire Franco-Manitobaine say they are investigating the incident.
"Are there other things we could have done? We're doing to have to look at the whole situation, what took place," said superintendent Denis Ferré.
"The whole issue of procedures: what happens in nasty weather, how are the bus drivers trained, about kids leaving the buses, supervision issues and contacting the parents [to] make sure everybody is up to speed.
"Our bus driver had a lot of experience. A lot of good things took place and the best thing that could of happened was that no one got hurt."
Ferré said the 13-year-old should never have been allowed to leave the school bus.
Sandilands is located about 100 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg.
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