It was supposed to be a fun escape: a group of elderly people from a sleepy town in Manitoba traveling by bus to a casino where they could play the slot machines and perhaps enjoy the Oasis restaurant’s bison pasta. Instead, the police said at least 15 people were killed and 10 injured when a semitrailer truck slammed into the bus on a rural stretch of 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 casualty motor vehicle accident they were aware of in Manitoba. For many in the province, it also had a sad echo, recalling another deadly crash in April 2018 in Humboldt, in neighboring Saskatchewan, where 16 junior hockey team players and staff were killed when their bus collided with a semitrailer truck.
The police said that the cause was not clear and that an investigation was pending.
Amanda Novak, a community leader from Dauphin, the small tree-lined town of about 8,400 people that many among the dead called home, said the crash had devastated Dauphin and would reverberate for years to come.
“Everyone in a smaller community is connected in some way, shape or form, so it will hit close to home for pretty much everybody,” she said in a phone interview.
The bodies of those killed were still being identified and no names had been released.
Ron Bretecher told the C.B.C., the national broadcaster, that both of his parents had been on the bus. He said his mother was at a hospital in Winnipeg, while his father was still unaccounted for. His family is “waiting for word,” he told the broadcaster Thursday evening. “It’s just very difficult.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada called the crash “incredibly tragic.” Speaking from Montreal on Friday, he sent condolences to the families of the victims. The crash “brings back memories of other terrible incidents like in Humboldt, Saskatchewan,” he said. Members of the House of Commons on Friday held a moment of silence for the victims.
The crash happened at around noon local time on Thursday near Carberry, about 100 miles west of Winnipeg, Manitoba’s capital. The police said it took place amid 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 its journey and crossing the four-lane highway when it was struck by a semitrailer truck, the police said; both drivers survived the crash and were being treated for injuries at a hospital. The police said they were considering whether to bring criminal charges against the drivers.
The police said many of the passengers killed were elderly. Of the 10 injured, some were taken by air ambulance to hospitals in Winnipeg and Brandon, Manitoba. Health officials said on Friday afternoon that the injured ranged in age from 60s to late 80s, several in critical condition.
Dauphin, the hometown of many of the passengers, has a large Ukrainian population and is known in Manitoba for the annual Dauphin Countryfest, the longest-running country music festival in Canada. The passengers were on a trip to Sand Hills Casino, which is on the Swan Lake First Nation, about 10 minutes south of the site of the crash. The casino has more than 300 slot machines, Blackjack and Roulette tables and hosts themed buffet nights.
Vjosa Isai contributed reporting from Toronto.