Six of 10 seniors who survived a bus crash in southern Manitoba that killed 15 others were listed in critical condition in hospital, health officials said Friday.
The remaining four were also in hospital, where most of the injured were dealing with head injuries and broken bones.
They were among a group of seniors from Dauphin on a day-trip to a casino when their minibus crashed with a semi while crossing the Trans-Canada Highway.
“This is an elderly cohort of patients, so recoveries will be long and, of course, can be complicated,” Dr. Shawn Young, chief operating officer of Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg, told a news conference.
In Dauphin, where most on the bus are from, flags were at half-mast and residents awaited word on the fate of loved ones, while police started to piece together what caused a crash the crash near the town of Carberry, some 190 kilometres to the south.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty right now,” Brad Michaleski, the provincial legislature member for Dauphin, said in an interview.
“We’re just trying to get a handle on how large an issue is this for our area and we’re patiently waiting (on) RCMP.”
Mounties were to hold a news conference later Friday. They said they are working with the medical examiner’s office to confirm identities and pass on information to families of the victims.
Nine of the survivors were in hospital in Winnipeg and one in Brandon. They include the drivers of both vehicles.
The bus had 25 people on the trip from the Dauphin Active Living Centre to the Sand Hills Casino in Carberry.
Sandra Kaleta, who is involved with the seniors centre, said she had considered going on the bus Thursday.
“I don’t know why I changed my mind,” Kaleta said. “I just did.”
She said she knew some of the people on the bus and played Scrabble every Tuesday with one of them.
“I have no idea how she is,” said Kaleta. “I think that’s the hardest part. I can’t imagine what some of these families are going through.”
Kaleta said she recalled everyone feeling excited about going to the casino. It wasn’t a trip that happened often, she added, noting the last one may have been before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s going to take years, not just days or months (to recover),” she said.
In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in Montreal that the flag on the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill would also be lowered.
“I know that all of Canadians stand with people during this very, very difficult time. There are lots of questions, but mostly there are lots of tears right now and we will be there for each other,” he said.
The bus company, Quality Care Transit, posted on Facebook about the crash.
“We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to families and friends of our beloved clients and to our community as we work through this heart-wrenching situation,” it said.
The crash happened just before noon Thursday. Police said road conditions were clear at the time.
Rescue crews encountered a horrific scene of bodies on the road.
The semi was still upright in a ditch, its front end crumpled, while the bus was on the grass a short distance away engulfed in flames that eventually burned it down to a blackened chassis.
Dauphin Mayor David Bosiak said everyone in the city of about 8,600 knows someone who was on the bus, and there’s a collective feeling of shock.
RCMP Supt. Rob Lasson said it appears the bus was crossing the Trans-Canada Highway, heading south on Highway 5, when the truck struck it.
He declined to speculate on the cause or circumstances of the crash, but said the investigation continues and criminal charges are a possibility.
Earlier Friday, the Manitoba government said on Twitter that all lanes of the highway had reopened.
Aerial photography of the crash scene shows that drivers heading across the highway would first have to obey a stop sign then, in the median between the opposite lanes, a yield sign.