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15 confirmed dead after collision between van carrying seniors and semi in southwestern Manitoba: RCMP

Fifteen people have been confirmed dead after a crash between a semi-trailer truck and a bus full of seniors headed to a casino in the southwestern Manitoba town of Carberry on Thursday, the commanding officer of the province’s RCMP said at a news conference.

Rob Hill said the bus that collided with the semi was carrying about 25 people — most of whom were seniors from in and around the western Manitoba city of Dauphin, about 150 kilometres north of Carberry.

Ten survivors were taken to hospital for their injuries, but Hill said the number of casualties may shift into the evening.

“Sadly, this is a day in Manitoba and across Canada that will be remembered as one of tragedy and incredible sadness,” Hill said, adding many people in the Dauphin area are still waiting for news about their loved ones.

“To all those waiting, I can’t imagine how difficult it is not knowing if the person you love the most will be making it home tonight. I’m so sorry we cannot get you the definitive answers you need more quickly.”

Earlier Thursday, there were multiple tarps on the ground close to where the collision happened at the intersection of the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 5, just north of Carberry, a small community about 160 kilometres west of Winnipeg.

Ron Bretecher said both of his parents were among the passengers on the bus to the casino. While his mother is in hospital at Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg, his father is still unaccounted for.

“So [my] family’s just basically waiting for word,” Bretecher said at the hospital Thursday evening. “It’s just very difficult.”

Barbara Czech, a spokesperson for Sand Hills Casino in Carberry, confirmed the van was en route to that casino. Czech said to her knowledge, the private vehicle operator had not been there before. 

WATCH | Vehicle smoulders in ditch after crash:

A crash between a semi-trailer truck and a bus full of seniors near the southwestern Manitoba town of Carberry left the smaller vehicle smouldering in a ditch on Thursday.

Both drivers alive: RCMP

Supt. Rob Lasson, the Manitoba RCMP’s officer in charge of major crime services, said Mounties were dispatched to the crash scene at 11:43 a.m.

An initial investigation determined the seniors’ bus was going south on Highway 5 and was crossing the eastbound lanes of the Trans-Canada Highway when it got hit by the semi, Lasson said.

He said it’s still early in what is a complex investigation and all the answers aren’t immediately available. Investigators in Manitoba are connecting with those in Saskatchewan who worked on the deadly Humboldt Broncos crash for assistance, Lasson said.

The drivers of both vehicles are alive and in hospital, but Lasson would not say which vehicle had the right of way.

“Answers will take some time, but I can assure you that the RCMP will get the answers,” Lasson said.

“Even at the outset of an investigation such as this, we need to be alive to the fact that there could be wrongdoing. And if so, there could be a criminal element to this investigation.”

WATCH | Former RCMP collision analyst describes how he would approach investigation:

15 confirmed dead after collision between van carrying seniors and semi in southwestern manitoba rcmp 1

What investigators will be looking for at the scene of the Manitoba crash

1 hour ago

Duration 2:21

Former RCMP collision analyst Rob Creasser describes how he would approach the investigation of a major highway accident and the questions he would have.

Massive fire: witness

Nirmesh Vadera said he was working at a café near the crash site when he went outside and saw a vehicle that had gone up in flames.

“The fire was about 10 to 15 feet high and the smoke was almost 20, 30 feet high,” Vadera said, adding the vehicle was completely burned within a half hour.

A large plume of smoke can be seen beside a highway, with a semi truck and emergency response vehicles in the background.
The crash, as shown in this image provided by Nirmesh Vadera, closed a section of the Trans-Canada Highway near Carberry, Man., on Thursday. (Submitted by Nirmesh Vadera via The Canadian Press)

Jon Proven said he saw about 20 police vehicles and seven or eight ambulances at the scene as he passed it in the early afternoon.

“I have never seen an accident that big,” Proven said. “It’s a little bit shocking.”

Sherree Strain, who works at the Manitoba Crop Diversification Centre just north of the crash site, said she and a group of university students from the centre were shaken by what they saw in the aftermath of the collision.

A vehicle in a ditch. The top is burned off and the seats inside are visible.
What remains of a burned vehicle was seen in the ditch near the crash site just outside of Carberry, Man., on Thursday afternoon. (Travis Golby/CBC)

“We sat out and watched it for a while,” Strain said. “I think they had their little cry.”

Manitoba RCMP said they deployed all available resources to the crash, with units from across western Manitoba there to help, along with other first responders. Major crime services will take over the investigation.

Westbound Highway 1 had been reopened to traffic by late Thursday afternoon.

Massive emergency response

The response to the crash included 14 critical care medical crew and two helicopters from the STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service) air ambulance service, as well as two planes.

STARS spokesperson Blake Robert said it was one of the service’s biggest responses ever.

“This is sort of in line with the similar large incidents that we responded to in the past, such as the tragedy with Humboldt Broncos, the incident in James Smith Cree Nation,” Robert said in a phone interview.

Twelve ambulances were also sent to the scene, Jennifer Cumpsty, executive director of acute health services at Health Sciences Centre, said at the RCMP news conference.

“Paramedics and first responders spend their entire careers preparing for a day like this, hoping it will never come. Today, it came,” Cumpsty said.

Most of the survivors’ injuries were either head injuries or orthopedic, Shared Health chief executive officer Lanette Siragusa said at the news conference.

A group of police and firefighters at the scene of a highway crash hold up yellow tarps near a semi-trailer truck.
First responders, including police and firefighters, were at the scene of the crash Thursday afternoon. (Travis Golby/CBC)

A spokesperson for Shared Health said earlier in the day that a mass casualty response had been initiated, with several Manitoba hospitals prepared to receive patients from the crash, including HSC — the province’s largest hospital — and others in the Prairie Mountain and Winnipeg health regions.

Emergency department, surgical and critical care teams at HSC and the Brandon Regional Health Centre were all prepared for incoming patients, the spokesperson said.

Rooms for families have been established at HSC and the Brandon Regional Health Centre, Shared Health said.

Family members seeking information from HSC are asked to contact the hospital’s switchboard at 204-787-3661 or 1-877-499-8774, while those seeking information from the Brandon hospital are asked to call 204-578-4080.

‘Our hearts are broken’: deputy premier

At Thursday’s news conference, deputy premier Cliff Cullen offered condolences to those affected by the deadly crash on behalf of the province.

“Our hearts are broken and our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of all the lives impacted by the horrific and devastating tragedy near Carberry,” he said.

Smoke billows from a vehicle in a ditch. A semi-trailer truck sits nearby.
The crash left a bus that had been carrying a group of seniors smouldering in a ditch on Thursday. (Submitted by Leighton Hardinge)

Other Manitoba officials released statements with similar sentiments, including Premier Heather Stefanson, Lt.-Gov. Anita Neville, Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham and Brandon Mayor Jeff Fawcett.

Stefanson and Fawcett said flags will fly at half mast at both the legislative building and all City of Brandon buildings in response to the tragedy.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also issued a statement calling the crash “incredibly tragic” and offering condolences to those who lost loved ones.

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