It was one of the biggest traffic pileups in Alberta’s history, and it closed the province’s busiest highway for several hours – a number of the more than 100 vehicles involved in the crash could be found Friday in impound lots in Leduc and Wetaskiwin.

In the meantime, police are still working out exactly what happened to spark the massive crash on the QE2 near Highway 13 – it’s believed it all started after a man got out of his car, after a crash.

However, a semi came over the hill at the same time, and wasn’t able to stop – setting off the chain reaction.

RCMP first received calls reporting the crash at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

In the end, RCMP said between 85 and 100 vehicles were involved in the main collision, but it’s estimated numerous other vehicles were involved in a number of other crashes outside of the immediate scene.

Police said Friday that despite the sheer number of vehicles involved, Thursday’s crash was not the largest in the province’s history – the largest took place two years ago in Olds with 86 vehicles involved.

RCMP said the QE2 pileup, with about 100 vehicles involved, didn’t count because those vehicles were spread over a 15-kilometre stretch – and only about 45 vehicles were involved in what police consider to be the main collision.

A day later, police were still going through the task of working out the exact chain of events that lead to the pileup.

“This is a hugely challenging job trying to determine how everything happened, when it happened and which vehicles were involved,” RCMP Cpl. Colette Zazulak said.

AHS calls 'Code Orange' after collision

As a result of the crash, more than 100 people suffered various injuries – one man was found underneath a semi in the wreckage, and was rushed to the U of A hospital in critical condition.

Police said that man was stable condition Friday.

The collision caused Alberta Health Services to declare a code orange for the U of A hospital.

“We initiate a plan when we know we have a large number of patients coming into our hospitals,” AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said.

Police closed the highway in both directions for about 12 hours, while police and tow trucks worked to clear the vehicles off of the road.

Officers from a number of RCMP detachments and the Edmonton Police Service were on the scene to help out.

Edmonton Transit provided transit buses to help move stranded drivers into the city – as did buses from other communities along the QE2.

Close call for family caught in collision

It took only a few frantic moments for Nick Pelletier’s vehicle to smash into a semi Thursday, he was behind one semi when it jack-knifed, he said he tried to swerve and avoid it, but ended up hitting another tractor trailer.

“Really as soon as I hit the brakes you were locked on into the direction the ice was just letting you go,” Pelletier said Friday.

His wife and two young children were also in the car – everyone inside suffered minor injuries.

“My wife suffered head trauma, she’s got broken glass shards in the side of her face, broken left wrist,” Pelletier said. “I suffered a broken nose, the children have bruising from the car restraints.”

Pelletier’s wife and children were trapped in their vehicle after the collision – he had to smash the passenger side window to free his wife, before grabbing their 10-month-old son, and 2-year-old daughter.

“Really, it happened so fast, it’s almost like a light switch going on and off, and by the time it’s all done you’re just sitting there in shock,” Pelletier said.

RCMP said a cattle liner hauling 74 head of cattle was one of the vehicles in the crash; almost all of the cattle were safely transferred to another truck and removed from the scene safely.

Two of the livestock had to be put down due to injuries they suffered in the crash.

Although investigators are still working on the crash, RCMP said speed is believed to be a factor in the collision.

RCMP ask anyone who was in any way involved in the collision to contact them with information to help with the investigation – police will need insurance, registration and driver’s license information, along with any information on other vehicles involved, the information of other drivers and anyone in the vehicle at the time.

With files from Jeff Harrington