It was supposed to be a fun getaway: A group of seniors from a sleepy Manitoba town were traveling by bus to a casino where they could play slot machines and maybe enjoy bison pasta at Oasis restaurant. Instead, police said, at least 15 people were killed and 10 injured when a semi-trailer truck crashed into the bus on a stretch of rural highway about 10 minutes from their destination.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said the crash, which shocked Canada and the Prairie province of Manitoba, was the first mass-fatal vehicle crash they knew of in Manitoba. For many in the province, it also had a sad echo, recalling another fatal crash in April 2018 in Humboldt, neighboring Saskatchewan, where 16 young hockey team players and staff were killed when their bus collided with a semi-trailer.
Police said the cause was unclear and that an investigation was ongoing and could take several months.
Amanda Novak, a community leader in Dauphin, the small tree-lined town of about 8,400 people that many of the dead called home, said the crash devastated Dauphin and would reverberate for years to come.
“Everyone in a smaller community is connected in some way, shape or form, so it’s going to hit close to home for pretty much everyone,” she said in a phone interview.
The bodies of those killed were still being identified and no names have been released. Dr John Younes, the province’s chief medical examiner, told a news conference on Friday that, due to the extent of their injuries, those killed may need to be identified using fingerprints, dental records or DNA.
Ron Bretecher told CBC, the national broadcaster, that both of his parents were on the bus. He said his mother was in a Winnipeg hospital while his father was still missing. His family “is waiting for news,” he told the broadcaster on Thursday evening. “It’s just very difficult.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the incident “incredibly tragic”. Speaking from Montreal on Friday, I sent condolences to the families of the victims. Members of the House of Commons held a moment of silence for the victims on Friday.
The incident occurred around noon Thursday local time near Carberry, about 100 miles west of Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba. Police said it took place under clear conditions on the Trans-Canada Highway, the national highway used by transport and passenger vehicles to cross the country.
The bus, carrying 25 passengers, was two hours into the journey and was crossing the four-lane highway when it was hit by a semi-truck, police said; Both drivers survived the crash and were treated for their injuries at a hospital. Police said they were considering bringing prosecutions against the drivers.
In a news conference on Friday, RCMP Superintendent Rob Lasson said police spoke to both drivers and seized video from the truck, but could not comment.
Police said the passengers ranged in age from 58 to 88. Of the 10 injured, some were taken by ambulance to hospitals in Winnipeg and Brandon, Manitoba.
Dauphin, the hometown of many of the passengers, has a large Ukrainian population and is known in Manitoba for the annual Dauphin Countryfest, Canada’s longest running country music festival. The passengers were en route to Sand Hills casinowhich is located on Swan Lake First Nation, about 10 minutes south of the crash site. The casino has more than 300 slot machines, blackjack and roulette tables, and hosts themed buffet nights.
Vjosa Isai contributed to reporting from Toronto.