NIPAWIN, Saskatchewan (AP) – Canadian police said early Saturday 14 people were killed and 14 people were injured after a truck collided with a bus carrying a junior hockey team to a playoff game in Western Canada.
Police say there were 28 people, including the driver, on board the bus of the Humboldt Broncos team when the crash occurred around 5 p.m. Friday on Highway 35 in Saskatchewan.
“We can now confirm fourteen people have died as a result of this collision,” The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in a release early Saturday.
“The other fourteen people were sent to hospitals with a variety of injuries; three of these people have injuries that are critical in nature.”
No names were released, and police would not say whether players or coaches were among the dead. There was no mention of the truck driver.
The team president said parents from across Western Canada were rushing to the scene as they struggled 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.”
Michelle Straschnitzki, who lives in Airdrie, said her 18-year old son Ryan had been taken to a hospital in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
“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. “I am freaking out. I am so sad for all of the teammates and I am losing my mind.”
The team was on its way to play in Game 5 of a semi-final against the Nipawin Hawks.
Darren Opp, president of the Hawks, said a semi T-boned the players’ bus.
“It’s a horrible accident, my God,” he said. “It’s very, very bad.”
Opp said the coaching staff and players from the Hawks were 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.
“It’s terrible. It’s absolutely terrible.”
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.”
Garinger said the Broncos are a close-knit team from the small city of Humboldt, Saskatchewan, which has a population of about 6,000.
Garinger said he still didn’t know the fate of one of the players living in his home.
“We don’t know who has passed and we don’t expect to know right away,” he said. “We know that the coroner and their office needs to do their work and let families know.”
Garinger said all the team can do now is help the players and their families any way they can.
“We just need to try to support each other as we deal with this incredible loss to our community, to our province, to our hockey world.”
Kevin Henry, a coach who runs a hockey school in Prince Albert, said he knows players on the team.
“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,” he said.
STARS air ambulance said it sent three helicopters to the scene.
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 ages of 16 and 20.
“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,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted.