A bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos has been involved in a crash north of Tisdale.
Rescue efforts were underway Friday night on a Saskatchewan highway after a semi collided with a passenger bus carrying members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team.
Nipawin RCMP said there were fatalities and a number of injuries, but were unable to confirm how many.
The collision happened at about 5 p.m. Friday on Highway 35 about 30 kilometres north of Tisdale, about halfway into the Bronco’s trip to Nipawin from Humboldt for Game 5 of their Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) semifinal series against the Nipawin Hawks. Nipawin is about 265 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.
“It’s disbelief. It’s shock. The deepest grief that you can ever imagine,” a stunned Kevin Garinger said late Friday night, while driving home to Humboldt from Swift Current.
Garinger is the president of the Humboldt Broncos as well as the local school division’s director of education. He said he was in shock, and struggling to make sense of a terrible tragedy.
“Our organization will never be the same,” Garinger said of the hockey club he loves, one he said aspired to make not only good hockey players but also good young men as well.
“Our thoughts and prayers — everything we have in terms of our energy is directed toward trying to deal with, cope with the loss that’s occurred here,” he said.
Darren Opp, president of the Hawks, said a semi T-boned the Humboldt 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 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.
“It’s terrible. It’s absolutely terrible.”
A motorist who passed the scene sent a photo of the crash site to The StarPhoenix.
Saskatchewan Heath Authority spokeswoman Jennifer Lyons said Friday night that the organization is in a “code orange,” meaning casualties are incoming to Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon. Lyons said additional information was not immediately available.
Myles Shumlanski, father of Broncos player Nick Shumlanski, said he got a call from his son and they picked him up.
“It’s only a quarter-mile from our house,” he said.
“There are casualties and it’s very bad. We were at the scene helping,” Shumlanski said.
“It was a disaster,” he said. “We had a crane lifting the bus.”
Shumlanski said that his son is being flown to Saskatoon after receiving treatment at a hospital in Tisdale.
Pastor Jordan Gadsby at the Apostolic Church in Nipawin welcomed any families to come to the church at 109 Fourth Avenue East.
“We just opened our building here with food and drinks … they can come if they need somewhere to go or someone to talk to,” he said. “There’s not a lot of confirmed information at this point. Families are just waiting to hear from their kids.
“There’s a lot of tears.”
The Nipawin Hawks said on Facebook the game was 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,” the Hawks posted on Friday evening.
Stars Air Ambulance confirmed it sent three helicopters to the scene.
Nipawin RCMP said in a news release at 6 p.m. that traffic is expected to be blocked or restricted for several hours.
“For those travelling in the area, please use extreme caution around emergency personnel. If at all possible, drivers are asked to avoid the area,” RCMP said.
In Humboldt, Mayor Rob Muench said a mobile crisis centre had been set up at the city’s Uniplex Convention Centre. Muench said the centre had already started filling up with people, and that counsellors were being made available.
“We’re asking people to come down to the Uniplex, Jubilee Hall or the Elgar Peterson Arena just to show some support for the community and each other,” Muench said.
Canalta Hotels said on Facebook that its hotels were available Friday night at no charge for family members of anyone affected by the tragic bus crash.
“If you know of a family member that’s affected by the tragic event in Saskatchewan, and needs to stay close by the hospitals — our hotels are available and we will take care of them. (No charge tonight) Our #CanaltaCares team is ready in Melfort, Humboldt Tisdale, and Martensville (Saskatoon).”
SJHL President Bill Chow said he was waiting to learn more details about the crash.
“I go to sleep every night worrying about the kids on buses and everybody else,” he said. “Unfortunately, this happened tonight and we’ll have to wait and see what the facts are.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that he couldn’t imagine what the parents were going through, “and my heart goes out to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy, in the Humboldt community and beyond.”
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. https://twitter.com/ralphgoodale/status/982440725429342209 …
Premier Scott Moe posted a statement on Facebook, saying, “Words cannot describe the loss that we feel tonight.”
The news is difficult to comprehend, he said.
“To the City of Humboldt, the entire Broncos organization, and the families impacted by this tragedy, please know you are in Saskatchewan’s hearts.
“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.
“Tonight, we all must pray for these families.”
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron said he and the FSIN executive were sending their condolences to the families.
“Our hearts and prayers are with everyone suffering from this tragedy tonight” Cameron said. “It’s through sport that we realize our full potential, so in this tragedy, we all grieve with the families.”
The WHL tweeted from its official Twitter page that it was keeping the Humboldt Broncos in its thoughts: “Hockey is family.”
The Saskatchewan Hockey Association also said its members would be sending a prayer to the Broncos team members.
“We ask all members of the SaskHockey community to join us in saying a prayer for the Humboldt Broncos team and their families.”
Four members of the Swift Current Broncos were killed in a bus crash in Saskatchewan in 1986.
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.”
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.
Dean Brockman, former longtime coach of the Humboldt Broncos, said it was a terrible, tragic day.
“Anyone who’s ever stepped on the bus to go to a game, people who have done that will recall a lot of bad memories that something almost happened or, when you look at things that did happen, or when you look at things that happened 30 years ago in Swift Current, it brings back a lot of bad memories, for sure,” he said.
Swift Current Broncos head coach Manny Viveiros said he could remember when his team’s bus crashed, and news of the Humboldt team’s tragedy made him feel “in shock.”
“It’s family. It’s not just our community. It’s family,” Viveiros said.
The Swift Current Broncos played the Moose Jaw Warriors Friday night in their WHL playoff series, but Warriors head coach Tim Hunter said they didn’t tell the players about the crash until after the game.
“The hockey community is a very tight community and everyone is thinking about those people,” Hunter said.
—With files from Arthur White-Crummey, Mark Melnychuk, Darren Zary, Alex MacPherson, Rob Vanstone, Thia James and The Canadian Press