HUMBOLDT, Saskatchewan (Reuters) – Fifteen people were killed when a bus carrying a Canadian junior hockey team collided with a truck in Saskatchewan province, police said on Saturday, in one of the worst disasters to strike Canada’s sporting community.
he tragedy sent shock waves through the hockey-loving country and engulfed the home of the Humboldt Broncos ice hockey team, a small farming town of fewer than 6,000 people, in grief. Fourteen survivors were in hospital, with some in critical condition, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said.
The team had been traveling to a playoff game when the accident occurred at about 5 p.m. on Friday near the Tisdale area, around 185 miles (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 when the bus they were traveling in collided with a semi-trailer.
The Hawks’ president, Darren Opp, told the Globe and Mail newspaper that the truck T-boned the players’ bus. “It’s a horrible accident, my God,” he said. “It’s very, very bad.”
The driver of the tractor trailer was not injured in the crash, RCMP Saskatchewan assistant commissioner Curtis Zablocki told a media conference. He said the driver was initially detained, but later released.
RCMP is continuing its investigation and it was too early to comment on the cause of the collision, Zablocki added.
Citing relatives, the Canadian Press reported that the Broncos’ head coach Darcy Haugan and the team’s 20-year-old captain, Logan Schatz, were among those killed.
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.
The 2017-2018 Humboldt Broncos Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team is pictured in this undated handout photo. Amanda Brochu/Handout via REUTERS
“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,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote in a tweet.
U.S. President Donald Trump said in a Twitter post that 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.
Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; writing by Denny Thomas and Daniel Wallis; editing by Janet Lawrence, Tom Brown and G Crosse