Testimonials from Canadian travelers injured in Cuba: "We will remember it for a lifetime."

"I woke up, we hit something, and that's when I realized we had just had an accident. It's a big shock for all of us," said one of the victims of the accident that left one dead and 26 injured.

Keven Julien y Danahée Chevarie © Captura de video /
Keven Julien and Danahée ChevariePhoto © Video screenshot /

A couple from Quebec who was on the bus that crashed on Sunday, June 2nd in Cuba is still shocked by the events, but grateful for the emergency services they received on-site.

Danahée Chevarie and Keven Julien were among the people who were going to take their return flight to Montreal after a vacation in Cuba. However, the bus they were traveling in from Cayo Santa María to the Abel Santamaría International Airport in Santa Clara, suffered a head-on collision while overtaking another vehicle, resulting in one person dead and 26 injured, most of them Canadian nationals, including minors.

"We were on the right side of the bus, that is to say, suspended in the air," Keven Julien recalled in statements collected by TVA Nouvelles. "At the moment of impact, it was a somewhat surprising blow, and it was after that I noticed the bus starting to overturn. I was able to hold onto the seats and stay suspended in the air."

Asleep at the time of impact, Danahée was thrown over him during the accident. “I woke up, we felt the first hit and that's when I realized we had just had an accident. It is a great shock for all of us,” he said. Nevertheless, she escaped with bruises all over the left side of her body, as well as cuts on her knee and feet.

Keven, for his part, was one of the first people to manage to escape from the bus, thanks in particular to the window above him, which was broken. He then started helping the children to get out of the vehicle. "After that, we were able to open the emergency doors from the outside to help others get out because there was a smell of gasoline in the bus," he explained.

The ambulances quickly arrived at the scene of the accident, according to Danahée, to prioritize the transportation of the most severely injured. "We do not know the condition of the people who had to be hospitalized," he said.

The travel agency Transat, responsible for the stay of Quebecers in Cuba, organized to find a hotel near the hospital for the survivors. The couple was supposed to be able to leave for Montreal at the end of next Tuesday. "We will remember this for the rest of our lives, that's for sure," said Danahée.

On the other hand, the sister of a Quebec woman who got trapped with her partner and child in Cuba after the accident said she was very anxious to hug her when she arrived in Montreal, according to the mentioned media.

Marianne Godbout stated that the hours following the accident were very difficult for her relatives. "At first, it was a nightmare because they were on vacation with their 5-year-old and they were truly left alone on the day of the accident, and it also took a long time before they were transported to the hospital. They did not eat or drink for several hours."

"I tried to communicate with Air Transat several times, and it was really difficult," she added. "It was a nightmare." Her sister suffered a concussion, and glass fragments hit her in the eye, while her brother-in-law needed around 40 stitches to close a wound on his arm.

"They are still with basic first aid, but we cannot wait for them to return to Quebec so they can see a doctor here," she said. "I feel very relieved that [her five-year-old son] is fine." At the time of these statements, Marianne's relatives were in Toronto and were supposed to arrive in Montreal the following Tuesday after the accident.

"As they had a child with them, they managed to get a flight to Toronto," she says. But it didn't go very well without the support of Air Transat. They had to turn back to quickly book a hotel because they wanted to send them two hours away by car from Toronto."

The airline's communication with Quebecers in Cuba has not always been easy. "With the Air Transat office in Montreal, it is easy to talk, but on the other hand, I spoke with five different agents who gave me five different emergency phone numbers," said Marianne.

That was the difficult part... Besides, in Cuba, the phone numbers mostly weren't working, so that's where they had the most difficulties with Air Transat's help," she added. "I really want to see them. We are expecting them today. They are eager and it has been very stressful. On the other hand, they are happy to be alive and that everything is going well."

What should tourists in the same situation do?

In an interview with TVA Nouvelles, insurance broker Louis Cyr advised all travelers to not only purchase travel insurance but also to contact their insurer before departure to familiarize themselves with their policy.

"It has to be done before leaving, although there are protections that can be automated [...] it is the type of things that are checked before leaving," he said. Some insurance companies have age limits, so they may stop covering you or only cover you half after the age of 65, for example."

When a tourist gets stranded in a country or an accident occurs, their first instinct should be to call their insurance company. "The first call should be to the insurance company, beyond the transportation provider and even the tour operator who sold us the trip," stated Cyr.

"It will redirect us to travel assistance, who will take care of the names, phone numbers, authorizations, coverage verifications, location information, spontaneous disbursements that we can make with certain hospitals," he added.

Also, it is possible that the traveler may have to pay out-of-pocket expenses that will later be reimbursed by the insurance company, or that the insurance company may make arrangements directly with the workers on site.

The choice of insurer is key. "Both things are possible and that's where the quality and choice of our insurer come into play," he stated.

The expert estimated that between 20 and 30% of Canadians travel abroad without travel insurance. "When we have an insurer that has agreements with hospitals in most countries around the world, the insurer that confirms coverage will advance payment for the insured and pay directly to health facilities," he said.

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