A day trip to the casino for a busload of seniors turned to devastation Thursday after a fiery crash with a tractor-trailer on the Trans-Canada Highway west of Winnipeg. Fifteen people were killed and 10 sent to hospital.
Witnesses recounted rescue workers frantically pulling people from the burning bus near a partially jackknifed truck — its front end crumpled and smashed — amid broken glass, a large bumper, and what appeared to be a walker.
The injured suffered mainly head and orthopedic injuries, RCMP said, and both drivers survived.
Day&Ross, whose tractor-trailer was involved in the collision, said in a statement it was heartbroken about the crash but had limited details about what happened.
“We are holding out hope that those injured will recover,” said fleet CEO William Doherty. “We will fully co-operate with the investigation and offer any assistance and support that we can.”
The scope of the crash and location in a prairie province draws comparisons to a 2018 collision on a Saskatchewan highway, when a tractor-trailer ran through a stop sign at a rural intersection and collided with a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team. Sixteen were killed and 13 injured.
That crash became a touchstone for regulators during the rollout of mandatory entry-level training regimes for new truck drivers and federally mandated electronic logging devices.
“This is a day in Manitoba and across Canada that will be remembered as one of tragedy and incredible sadness,” Assistant Commissioner Rob Hill, commanding officer of Manitoba’s RCMP, said of Thursday’s crash.
“To all those waiting (for information), I can’t imagine how difficult it is not knowing if the person you love the most will be making it home tonight.”
Officials said 12 ambulances responded along with air support to the crash, which occurred in clear weather conditions at about noon at the intersection of the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 5, just north of the town of Carberry.
Carberry is 170 kilometres west of Winnipeg and about halfway between Winnipeg and the Saskatchewan boundary.
RCMP Supt. Rob Lasson said it appears the bus, carrying 25 people from Dauphin and the surrounding area, was crossing the Trans-Canada, heading south on Highway 5, when it was struck.
“The bus had already crossed the westbound lanes and was crossing the eastbound lanes when it was struck by the semi,” said Lasson.
“Immediately, it became apparent that this was a mass casualty situation.”
Lasson declined to speculate on the cause or circumstances of the crash, but said the investigation continues and criminal charges are a possibility.
“(Further) answers will take some time.”
On the scene
Nirmesh Vadera, who was working at a business on the side of the highway when the crash happened, said he went outside and saw a truck with a smashed front end.
A bus was on fire in the grass on the side of the road. First responders were trying to get people out of the burning vehicle, he said.
“It was burning and all the (firefighters) and medical help and everybody was trying to get them away from the fire. They were just trying to give treatment and everything,” he said.
Michael Stewart was driving nearby when he saw smoke in the distance and flashing lights. As he got closer, the horrific scene became clear.
“I then saw the emergency vehicles and the semi partially jackknifed with front of the cab smashed,” Stewart said in a message online.
“Then I saw the bodies (lying) on the median.”
Messages and support
Lasson said investigators have already reached out to Saskatchewan peers who gained experience during the Humboldt crash.
“We have already linked into the investigators in Saskatchewan, who have firsthand experience and are some of the primary investigators in the investigation with the Humboldt crash,” he said.
The Broncos hockey team reached out on Twitter saying, “We are devastated to learn of the tragic news coming from Carberry.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved and affected.”
Other messages of condolence and support poured in from across the country.
“My heart breaks hearing the news of the tragic accident near Carberry,” Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson posted on social media. “My most sincere condolences go out to all those involved.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on Twitter, called the news was “incredibly tragic.”
“I’m sending my deepest condolences to those who lost loved ones today, and I’m keeping the injured in my thoughts,” he said.
“I cannot imagine the pain those affected are feeling — but Canadians are here for you.”
- With files from Today’s Trucking
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