Canadian police: 15 fatalities after bus crash involving junior hockey league team

Canadian police said Saturday that 15 people were killed and 14 people were injured after a truck collided with a bus carrying a junior hockey team to a playoff game in Western Canada.

Police said 29 people, including the driver, were on board the bus of the Humboldt Broncos team when the crash occurred around 5 p.m. Friday on Highway 35 in Saskatchewan.

Curtis Zablocki, assistant commissioner for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said the truck was traveling west on Highway 335 and the bus traveling north on Highway 35 when the collision happened. Speaking at a news conference Saturday afternoon, Zablocki said the investigation will take some time.

"The worst nightmare has happened," Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League president Bill Chow said at the news conference as he fought back tears.

The injured, some in critical condition, were taken to hospitals in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Authorities have yet to identify all of the deceased, but among the dead are:

• Coach Darcy Haugan, according to his wife. Tributes poured in online for the father of two who was described as an amazing mentor to young players.

• Logan Schatz, a 20-year-old team captain, Schatz's father said.

• Play-by-play announcer Tyler Bieber, who worked for the Humboldt station CHBO. His death was confirmed by the station's manager as well as a friend.

• Brody Hinz , the team's volunteer statistician, Humboldt team president Kevin Garinger told the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

• Glen Doerksen, who was behind the wheel of the bus when the accident occurred, a representative speaking on behalf of Doerksen's family and friends told the StarPhoenix.

Garinger said parents from across Western Canada were rushing to the scene as they struggled to cope with the tragedy.

"It's one of the hardest days of my life," Garinger said. "There have been multiple fatalities. Our whole community is in shock. We are grieving, and we will continue to grieve throughout this ordeal as we try to work toward supporting each other."

Hassan Masri, an emergency room doctor at Saskatoon's Royal University Hospital who has done work in war-torn Syria, said the crash reminded him of an airstrike.

The father of Humboldt center Derek Patter tweeted a photo of his son and two other players in the hospital.

Michelle Straschnitzki, who lives in Airdrie, said her 18-year-old son, Ryan, had been 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," she said. "I am freaking out. I am so sad for all of the teammates, and I am losing my mind."

Photographs of the wreckage showed the twisted trailer with most of its wheels in the air and the bus on its side and its back portion destroyed. The force of the crash sent both vehicles into the ditch at the northwest corner of the intersection.

Aerial footage showed the bus on its side, its roof peeled back and its front end destroyed. The trailer of the truck lay nearby in a shattered mess, with bags of its peat moss cargo scattered all around. The tractor part of the truck was intact, lying on its passenger side.

STARS air ambulance said it sent three helicopters to the scene.

The tractor-trailer would have had to yield to a stop sign before crossing over the highway that the hockey bus was travelling on. There is a stand of trees on the southeast corner of the intersection, limiting visibility of the approach on both roads. Police said a lot of issues have to be investigated, including weather conditions at the time and any mechanical issues with the vehicles.

The driver of the truck was not hurt, Zablocki said. He said the truck driver is not in custody and is being provided mental health assistance.

The close-knit Broncos play out of the small city of Humboldt, Saskatchewan, which has a population of about 6,000. The 24-member team is made up of players from western Canada, was on its way to play in Game 5 of a semifinal series against the Nipawin Hawks.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted his sympathies.

President Donald Trump also tweed about the crash, saying he called Trudeau to offer his sympathies.

"It's overwhelming. It's been tough on everybody,'' Humboldt Mayor Rob Muench said in a phone interview. "We're a small community, some of those kids have been on the team for a number of years. A lot grew up in the community and everybody knows each other.''

Penny Lee, the spokeswoman for the town of Humboldt, said grief counselors are available. "Everybody is just so devastated. These poor young boys,'' Lee said.

Kevin Henry, a coach who runs a hockey school in Prince Albert, said he knows players on the team.

"This is, I would think, one of the darkest days in the history of Saskatchewan, especially because hockey is so ingrained in how we grow up here," he said.

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 ages of 16 and 20.

Asked about what will happen for the remainder of the playoffs, Chow said, "We will have conversations as to what the Humboldt Broncos want to do. We will then have some discussions with our governors of the league and whatever decision we make, we're going to do what we think is in the best interest of everybody involved. There will be people who will disagree with whatever we decide, and there will be people who agree with what we decide. And so at the end of the day, we're going to do what we think is right."

In 1986, four players from the Western Hockey League's Swift Current Broncos died in a bus crash on the Trans-Canada Highway in Saskatchewan heading to a game in Regina. Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff lost their lives in that accident when the team bus hit a patch of black ice.

Future Hall of Famer Joe Sakic was a rookie on the team.

"It's tough to think about it, and it's something you never forget," Sakic said in a 2008 interview with the Globe & Mail. "You want to overcome it all, but these are your friends. You can't forget. You don't want to forget."

The Associated Press contributed to this report..