RCMP have confirmed fatalities and a “number of injuries” in a collision involving a junior hockey team’s bus in Saskatchewan, and say rescue efforts remain ongoing.
It was not immediately clear how many people were killed and injured in the crash about 30 kilometres north of Tisdale, Sask.
The Nipawin Hawks of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League say the crash involved the team bus of the Humboldt Broncos, who were on their way to Nipawin for Game 5 of its SJHL semifinal series.
The SJHL is aware of an accident involving the Humboldt Broncos bus. The SJHL has no other facts at this time. Upon being informed of the facts, the SJHL will make a release.
The Hawks had been scheduled to play the Broncos on Friday night, but said on Facebook shortly after 6 p.m. CST that the game was cancelled because of the crash.
“I’m in shock as much as anyone,” said Broncos president Kevin Garinger.
Like others in the small community of nearly 6,000, he said he knew each of the young men and staff on the team personally, and had been billeting one of the players at his home.
We are just in utter disbelief and shock at the loss that’s fallen upon us.– Broncos president Kevin Garinger
“This is much larger than anyone can begin to imagine.”
Garinger had been in Edmonton visiting a nephew in the hospital, when he got a call from a fan, asking about reports of the crash. Once he started making phone calls, he learned of the extent of the collision.
“We are just in utter disbelief and shock at the loss that’s fallen upon us.”
He said the entire Broncos organization wanted to share their “deepest thoughts and prayers” to those most impacted by the crash, as well as their thanks to the emergency personnel who responded to the crash.
Premier, Prime Minister offer condolences
“Words can not describe the loss that we feel tonight,” wrote Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe in a Facebook post. “To the City of Humboldt, the entire Broncos organization, and the families impacted by this tragedy, please know you are in Saskatchewan’s hearts.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his condolences as well, writing 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.”
The collision took place Friday evening on Highway 35, about 30 kilometres north of Tisdale, Sask., near the junction of Highway 335, when a semi-trailer collided with the bus, the RCMP said.
STARS air ambulance says it has sent two helicopters to the scene.
A few family members contacted by CBC News said they were waiting to hear more concrete details about their loved ones on the team.
The team includes 24 players, all from Western Canada, ranging in age from 16 to 21.
Traffic on the highway will be blocked or restricted for several hours and drivers can expect lengthy delays. Drivers are asked to avoid the area, if possible.
‘It’s going to hit the community hard’
Humboldt Mayor Rob Muench said he first heard about the crash on social media.
“It was horrifying,” he said, noting there are a few “local kids” on the team.
“It’s going to hit the community hard.”
A team bus carrying fans was also headed to Nipawin for the game.
The Nipawin Apostolic Church, located at 109 Fourth Avenue East, is serving as a gathering place for families, and more information will be shared there, according to the RCMP. Emergency services and Victim Services representatives will also be on site.
Pastor Jordan Gadsby said that around 100 people were gathered before 9 p.m. CST, including families from Humboldt.
The community was coming out to help, with local grocery stores bringing food, while others brought phone chargers and help to connect families with relatives. Those who had heard news about their loved ones quickly left to nearby hospitals, while others were still waiting to hear news, he said.
Parents and family of individuals seeking information about their family members who may have been in the collision can call 306-752-8700.
This is the second time a Saskatchewan team with the name “Broncos” has been involved in a highway crash.
The Swift Current Broncos bus crash occurred in December 1986, killing four members of the Western Hockey League team. A memorial was placed at the site of the crash, about four kilometres east of Swift Current.