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'They were like family' victims of Jasper crash worked in Banff

BANFF - Four of the six people who died in a fiery car crash near Jasper earlier this week worked in Banff. Anand Panwar, Pavan Kathiat, Gelek Wangmo and Ganesh Anala were identified on a Gofundme campaign created to support their families.
Jasper crash
Pavan Kathait, left, and Anand Panwar in this undated Gofundme picture were two of the six victims identified in a deadly crash in Jasper National Park on Aug. 7. They worked together as chefs at Masala Authentic Indian Cusine in Banff, according to an employee from the restaurant.

BANFF - Four of the six people who died in a fiery car crash near Jasper earlier this week worked in Banff.

Anand Panwar, Pavan Kathiat, Gelek Wangmo and Ganesh Anala were identified on a Gofundme campaign created to support their families.

According to the RCMP, the group of friends were traveling together in a Hyundai Kona SUV on Highway 93 when they were killed in a head-on crash 60 kilometres south of Jasper on Aug. 7.

Panwar and Kathiat were roommates and both worked as full-time chefs at Masala Authentic Indian Cusine, according to an employee at the restaurant who wished to remain anonymous.

"They were like family," said the employee. "They were always happy and smiling."

The employee said Panwar moved to Canada about six years ago and regularly sent money back to India to support his wife and his six-year-old son. His wife is currently pregnant and expecting their second child soon.

Kathiat planned to marry his fiancée, who is also in India, in November.

"They worked hard and had fun when they could and tried to support their families back home."

Wangmo, who was also from India, worked part-time at the restaurant with the two men and worked as a housekeeper at the Rimrock Resort Hotel. Anala worked full-time at the Indian Curry House restaurant.

"It's been a tough day here," said Trevor Long, general manager for the Rimrock.

"There's a lot of disbelief and grief right now. We brought a grief councillor in yesterday to help our team to try and get through it.  They're strong and are supporting one another and getting through it as best as can be expected."

All four were good friends so when they didn't show up for work on Wednesday morning (Aug. 8) friends and colleagues began to worry and contacted the RCMP in Banff who confirmed that Panwar and Kathiat were two of the six people killed in the crash. The two others have yet to be formally identified by police because their bodies were burned beyond recognition.

"They were outgoing young kids who were just living their life," said their colleague.

The restaurant remained closed on Thursday (Aug. 9) and it's unclear when it will reopen.

Jeanna Sheldon and her husband were heading home to Red Lodge, Montana, when they came across the accident a few minutes after it happened.

"My husband helped with the fire that was starting on the hillside. We supplied blankets, paper towels, shovel and a fire extinguisher," wrote Sheldon via Facebook messenger.

"When we pulled up they had already been pulled from the vehicles. At that point everyone was scrambling for medical supplies, blankets, etc. It was amazing how everyone just pulled together to help in any way possible."

RCMP Cpl Laurel Scott confirmed two of the four victims in the Hyundai Kona where from India, however, she said police are still working with the office of the chief medical officer in Edmonton to identify the two remaining victims who have been identified by friends and colleagues.

"Due to the fire that occurred and the possibility that they are not residents of Alberta this is a complex investigation," said Scott.

"The RCMP don't expect to provide a further update on this collision until the investigation is completed by the collision analysts. Once the investigation is completed an update will only be provided if charges are laid."

The two occupants in the other vehicle who died in Tuesday's crash were identified by RCMP as Angela Dye Elkins, a 50-year-old woman from Benton, La., and her 28-year-old son-in-law, Nick Copeland, who lived in Houston.

The other two people in the van, Curtis Elkins and his daughter, Sarah Copeland, were taken to hospital in serious condition and are recovering. The fifth passenger, a toddler, was taken to hospital in Jasper, but wasn't injured.

Both vehicles caught fire following the crash, while a third vehicle went off the road as it tried to avoid the accident. The two occupants of that vehicle suffered minor injuries.

"This family came to Canada seeking adventure," said Scott on behalf of Tim Dye, the brother of Angela.

"The silver lining is that through all of the pain and loss, we know that Angela and Nick were upgraded to an even better adventure."

The family thanked the people who helped at the scene and the first responders for their bravery and professionalism. They also thanked hospital staff for taking care of them.

Scott said the cause of the crash is still under investigation and police have not made any determination as to the cause of the collision.


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