Fourteen people were killed after a bus carrying a team of young hockey players to a Friday night playoff game in Saskatchewan was hit by a semi-trailer — a crash that sent shockwaves throughout the hockey community in the province and far beyond.
The crash happened near Tisdale, about 300 kilometres north of Regina, prompting several air ambulances to respond and sending victims to multiple hospitals in the region.
The RCMP confirmed early Saturday morning that 28 people were on the bus, including the driver, 14 of whom were killed. The remaining 14 were taken to hospital with a range of injuries, including three in critical condition.
The crash, which involved a bus carrying members of the Humboldt Broncos, brought back memories of another fatal crash, in 1986, in which four members of the Swift Current Broncos were killed.
The Humboldt Broncos were traveling to Nipawin for Game 5 of the teams’ playoff series.
The Broncos’ playoff roster includes two dozen players ranging in age from 18 to 21. Their hometowns are mostly in Saskatchewan or Alberta.
The president of team said parents from across Western Canada were rushing to the scene as they struggle to cope with the tragedy.
“It’s one of the hardest days of my life,″ said Kevin Garinger.
“ There have been multiple fatalities _ our whole community is in shock, we are grieving and we will continue to grieve throughout this ordeal as we try to work toward supporting each other.”
Garinger, who has one of the players living in his home, said they still don’t know his fate.
”We don’t know who has passed and we don’t expect to know right away,″ he said.
Michelle Straschnitzki, who lives in Airdrie, said her 18-year old son Ryan has been taken to hospital in Saskatoon.
”We talked to him, but he said he couldn’t feel his lower extremities so I don’t know what’s going on,” she said, noting she will go to Saskatchewan on Saturday.
”I am freaking out. I am so sad for all of the teammates and I am losing my mind.”
The team includes Parker Tobin, an 18-year-old goalie whose hometown is listed at Stoney Plain, Alta.
A Twitter user named Rhonda Clarke Tobin posted on Friday night: “This is one of the hardest posts I have ever had to make. Parker is stable at the moment and being airlifted to Saskatoon hospital. Thank you all for your kind words and messages. Please continue to pray for his Humboldt family.”
Her previous posts include pictures and retweets about hockey, including a March 27 retweet of an article from the Humboldt Broncos website noting that Parker Tobin had been named Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League goaltender of the week.
Friends and family were gathering at the Apostolic Church in Nipawin. People were also gathering at the hockey arena in Humboldt, waiting for news.
Darren Opp, president of the Nipawin Hawks, said a semi-trailer T-boned the players’ bus.
“It’s a horrible accident, my God,” he said. “It’s very, very bad.”
Mr. Opp said the coaching staff and players from the Hawks are waiting to help.
“They are sitting in the church just waiting to hear any good news,” he said. “I’ve got 50 phone calls at least saying what do you want?
“There’s uncles and moms and dads waiting to hear whether their sons and nephews are OK,” he said. “It’s terrible. It’s absolutely terrible.”
STARS, the air ambulance service that operates in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Winnipeg, dispatched three air ambulances.
Spokesman Mark Oddan said one patient was transferred to Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon and another was en route to the hospital. A third aircraft remained on the scene.
RCMP said the collision occurred late Friday afternoon on Highway 35, about 30 kilometres north of Tisdale near the junction of Highway 335.
Sending all my thoughts and prayers to those impacted with the @HumboltBroncos bus crash.
Pls don't share any unconfirmed information. These kids families and friends
Are all searching for the correct info.#PrayersForHumboldt
— Sheldon Kennedy (@ShelKenn) April 7, 2018
Doug Dahl, spokesman for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said patients were being routed to several hospitals in the region, but he couldn’t provide specific numbers.
Pastor Jordan Gadsby at the Apostolic Church in Nipawin said more than a hundred people had gathered at the church — including parents and grandparents of the players who were on the bus.
“Lots of them are waiting for information,” he said. “Some of the families have gotten information and have gone to be with their kids. Some of them are waiting to hear if their kids are alive.”
Mr. Gadsby said they know there are multiple fatalities, but they haven’t heard how many.
The chairman of the board for the league was also awaiting more official details.
“We’re just waiting to hear,” said Rick Shultz. “We just know there has been an accident.
“It’s not very good.”
Kevin Henry, a coach who runs a hockey school in Prince Albert, Sask., said he knows players on the team.
“People are in such shock. All these young men and boys. We send our kids to play hockey. It is sort of every parent’s worst nightmare,” he said.
Words can not describe the loss that we feel tonight.
From a grieving province, thank you to first responders & medical professionals for courageous response under the most difficult circumstances imaginable.
Tonight, we all must pray for these families.https://t.co/dEnhKMkDxJ
— Scott Moe (@PremierScottMoe) April 7, 2018
“This is I would think one of the darkest days in the history of Saskatchewan, especially because hockey is so ingrained in how we grow up here.”
Former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy, who was one of the players on the bus in 1986, also sent a message of support.
“Sending all my thoughts and prayers to those impacted with the HumboltBroncos bus crash.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau posted his condolences on Twitter.
“I cannot imagine what these parents are going through, and my heart goes out to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy, in the Humboldt community and beyond,” he wrote.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said what he has been told about the collision is difficult to comprehend.
“To the City of Humboldt, the entire Broncos organization, and the families impacted by this tragedy, please know you are in Saskatchewan’s hearts,” Moe said in a statement.
“From a grieving province, thank you to every one of the first responders and medical professionals for your courageous response under the most difficult circumstances imaginable.”
The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League is a Junior ‘A’ hockey league under Hockey Canada, which is part of the Canadian Junior Hockey League. It’s open to North American-born players between the age of 16 and 20.
In Nipawin, Mayor Rennie Harper said hockey is a big part of the town and the broader community.
“A lot of these players have connections across the province,” Mr. Harper said. ““So it’s a huge impact everywhere. These are young people.”