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Life is Uncertain

On Friday, April 6th at 5 pm at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 about 30 km north of Tisdale, Saskatchewan a two-vehicle crash occurred that became international news. The Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team was traveling by bus from Humboldt to Nipawin, Saskatchewan for Game 5 of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League semifinal series against the Nipawin Hawks when it collided with a semi-trailer hauling peat moss from Carrot River to Alberta.

The bus driver, the head coach, the assistant coach, the play-by-play broadcaster on the Humboldt radio station that broadcast the games, and eleven of the players—all of the players in their late teens or early twenties— were killed; 14 others were injured. The semi-trailer truck driver was physically uninjured but is reportedly receiving mental health support. The National Post newspaper front page dealing with the event contains a photo of the aftermath wreckage that, and without the surrounding text and graphics, might be looked on as a massive weather phenomenon but for the rectangularity and repeated patterning on some of the shapes caught in the gyroscope.

The US president and vice-president both tweeted their condolences. Buckingham Palace issued a statement from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II: “Prince Philip and I were saddened to hear a word of the crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost so much, with their families and with all Canadians who grieve with them at this difficult time.”

The Premier of Saskatchewan Scott Moe said, “Our hearts are broken.” And on Sunday night at the Elgar Petersen Arena—the local rink — “multiple thousands” … “Farmers, businesspeople, teachers, teens, kids, NHL coaches, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau [and other political leaders from all parties and all levels of government], Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League players, grief-stricken family members … all prayed for Humboldt.”

The crash is currently under investigation. But this we know: while photos of the intersection taken on the day following the crash show the surrounding fields as snow-covered, the roads are clear; at 5 pm sunset was still about an hour and a half away; post-crash, the semi-trailer truck cab was on its side but relatively intact; the truck’s load was widely scattered; the bus was also on its side but with its roof almost completely peeled back; the speed limit on both highways is 100 kmh; both drivers were approaching stop signs with flashing lights on top; the southeast corner has a tree line that ends before the stop sign but that does obscure the view of approaching vehicles on Highway 335.

This may be a classic intersection crash. The intersection reportedly has a history: on June 17, 1997, a family traveling in a half tonne truck along Highway 335 ran the stop sign crossing into the path of a semi- traveling the speed limit on Highway 35. Six crosses beside the grove of trees at this intersection mark their deaths.

Without trees, prairie highways are long straightaways. Drivers can ‘see for miles.’ There may be a lulled sense of all-clearness all-the-time.

Life is always uncertain. Always.

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