A semi-trailer slammed into a bus carrying a youth hockey team in western Canada, killing 15 people and injuring 14 in a catastrophic collision that a doctor compared to an airstrike and left the vehicles obliterated in the snow. The crash sent shockwaves of grief through the team’s small hometown and a country united by the national sport.
As details of Friday’s accident on a highway in Saskatchewan emerged, Canadians were moved to tears on Saturday as they learned of the identities of the deceased on a bus driving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team to a crucial playoff game
The team had been traveling to a playoff game when the accident occurred at about 5:00 p.m. on Friday near the Tisdale area, around 300 km north of Regina.
“Our Broncos family is in shock as we try to come to grips with our incredible loss,” Kevin Garinger, the team’s president, said in a statement.
The players had been on their way to compete in Game 5 of a playoff series against the Nipawin Hawks.
The Hawk’s president, Darren Opp, told the Globe and Mail newspaper that the truck, a semi-trailer, T-boned the players’ bus.
“It’s a horrible accident, my God,” he said. “It’s very, very bad.”
“An entire country is in shock and mourning,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “This is every parent’s worst nightmare. No one should ever have to see their child leave to play the sport they love and never come back.”
The bus had 29 passengers, including the driver, when it crashed at about 5 p.m. on Highway 35, Canadian police said. Among the dead are Broncos head coach Darcy Haugan, team captain Logan Schatz and radio announcer Tyler Bieber. Authorities earlier said three were in critical but later provided an update to say that 15 have now died.
Canadian police said the truck driver was initially detained but has since been released and provided with mental health assistance. Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner Curtis Zablocki said it’s too early to state a cause for the crash.
Many social media users posted Haugan’s photograph alongside messages of shock and sympathy, and the hashtags #prayersforhumboldt and #humboldtstrong.
“God bless Darcy Haugan for being an incredible mentor and coach to young hockey players and prayers for his family to help cope with their immense loss,” the Western Provinces Hockey Association wrote on Twitter.
National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman said the NHL mourned the passing of those who died “and offers strength and comfort to those injured while traveling to play and be part of a game they loved.”
A steady stream of people arrived at Humboldt’s Elgar Petersen sports arena on Saturday, consoling the grieving families and offering flowers. Counseling services for the victims’ relatives were offered in a nearby room.
“We woke up to the reality of what happened last night,” Humboldt Mayor Rob Muench told Reuters. “It has been a tragedy nobody would have imagined. It’s very tough but I have been trying to get the message out that we will get through this, we will see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Condolences poured in from current and former hockey players, sports organizations and political leaders.
“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,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote in a tweet.
In a post on Twitter, US President Donald Trump said he had spoken with Trudeau “to pay my highest respect and condolences to the families of the terrible Humboldt Team tragedy. May God be with them all!”
Pastor Jordan Gadsby of Nipawin’s Apostolic Church said hundreds of people, including parents and relatives of players on the bus, had gathered at the church late on Friday to seek information and solace.
“The worst part of the night was watching parents waiting for news of their kids,” he said. “There’s not a lot we can do. It’s a terrible thing that happened.”
For some, the tragedy revived painful memories of a bus crash in the province in December 1986 that killed four young players from the Swift Current Broncos ice hockey team.
An online fundraising campaign for the affected players and their families, with an initial target of $10,000, was set up late on Friday by the mother of a former Broncos teammate. By lunchtime on Saturday it had raised more than $1 million.
“Stay Hockey family strong,” wrote one donor on the GoFundMe site who said he was a coach from rural Saskatchewan.
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