At least 14 people are dead after a crash between a tractor-trailer and a bus carrying a Canadian junior hockey league team, a tragedy that struck at the heart of a tightknit city in rural Saskatchewan and immediately echoed through the hockey world and beyond.
The deadly crash occurred around 5 p.m. Friday on Highway 35 in Saskatchewan, about 150 miles northeast of Saskatoon, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The bus was carrying members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey league team, on their way to the town of Nipawin for a playoff game.
“While en route to Nipawin, the Broncos bus was involved in a terrible accident which has resulted in multiple fatalities and serious injuries,” the team confirmed Friday.
Among those killed were the team’s head coach and captain, according to the Canadian Press. The Associated Press reported that a radio announcer for the team had also died in the crash. The Washington Post could not immediately independently confirm the deaths, and Canadian authorities have said they are not yet ready to release the names of victims.
Broncos president Kevin Garinger described “an incomprehensible situation” at an emotional news conference Saturday afternoon where several of the speakers choked back tears.
“We are heartbroken and completely devastated by the tragedy that occurred yesterday,” Garinger said. “We will never forget April 6, 2018, and we will never forget the members of our Broncos family who were taken from us and who were injured.”
Bill Chow, the president of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, to which the Broncos belong, had to stop mid-sentence to compose himself as he tried to answer reporters’ questions Saturday.
“I don’t have a lot to say other than— …” Chow said, pausing for several seconds as he began to cry. ” … other than the worst nightmare has happened.”
On Saturday, police confirmed there were 29 people on the Humboldt Broncos team bus, including the driver, at the time of the crash. Fifteen of those people were injured, three of them critically, police said. (Police had earlier said there were 28 on the bus and 14 injured.)
Police did not release names of the deceased or injured, nor did they say how many were players or coaches. Police said the driver of the tractor-trailer was not injured and was not in custody.
The Broncos roster lists 24 players ranging in age from 16 to 21 years old, as well as three coaches. The junior league team is based in Humboldt, a small city about 120 miles south of Nipawin with a population of nearly 6,000 people.
As word spread of the accident Friday night, dozens of Humboldt residents gathered at the Broncos’ home ice rink to wait for news and take solace in the community, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix reported.
Images from the arena showed adults and children clustered around tables, among tissue boxes and disposable cups. Some appeared dazed, some with eyes red from crying.
“There’s people, just sitting in the stands, stunned. They didn’t know what to do,” Humboldt Mayor Rob Muench told the newspaper. “It’s a tragedy not only for Humboldt, but for hockey all over [Canada]. A number of the players were from communities in surrounding provinces and across the country. It is a very, very hard thing to take.”
Muench said Saturday he had received condolences from several world leaders, including the president of the United States, as well as those in the hockey community. He spoke of the culture of Canadian junior league hockey — especially of the frequent long bus trips from game to game — that was familiar to so many people in Humboldt and beyond.
“This tragedy has hit a number of people — not just us but I think everybody can relate to this experience,” Muench said. “Throughout Canada, we see teams going out into the Canadian winters on buses all the time. It’s always a thought [in your mind] about what could happen. Unfortunately, this happened here in Humboldt. There is no playbook on what to do in cases like this.”
Michelle Straschnitzki told the Associated Press her 18-year-old son Ryan was among the Broncos players taken to a 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,” Straschnitzki told the AP. “I am freaking out. I am so sad for all of the teammates, and I am losing my mind.”
Several professional hockey teams and Canadian officials, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, also offered condolences, as did President Trump.
We ask all members of the SaskHockey community to join us in saying a prayer for the the Humboldt Broncos team and their families.
— Saskatchewan Hockey (@sask_hockey) April 7, 2018
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
The Broncos had been scheduled to play against the Nipawin Hawks in the semifinals of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoffs. The Hawks announced Friday night that the game had been canceled.
Tonight’s game is Cancelled. The accident being talked about involved Humboldt team bus. We ask during this time that you don’t send messages. When more information is given we will update.
A GoFundMe account set up to help Broncos families with expenses raised more than $850,000 in less than a day.
On Friday night, more than a hundred people packed the Apostolic Church in Nipawin — including family members of Broncos players who had been on the bus — awaiting word from the accident, the Globe and Mail reported.
“Lots of them are waiting for information,” pastor Jordan Gadsby told the newspaper. “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.”
Nipawin Hawks president Darren Opp told local reporters that members of his team were also standing by waiting to help, and that he had received at least 50 phone calls offering the same.
“There’s uncles and moms and dads waiting to hear whether their sons and nephews are okay,” he said. “It’s terrible. It’s absolutely terrible.”