Hockey bus crash vic­tims join Bron­cos’ seat­belt call

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For the first cou­ple of min­utes af­ter the crash, no one on the Uni­ver­sity of Al­berta Pan­das hockey team bus knew what had hap­pened.Cap­tain Cayle Dil­lon heard a big boom and felt the cold.Abby Ben­ning, who plays de­fence, heard a pop, then glass break­ing and what sounded like mar­bles hit­ting the floor.Goalie Kirsten Cham­ber­lin, who had mu­sic blast­ing through her ear­phones, said ev­ery­thing looked white.“It was pretty scary. It was pretty crazy to think it hap­pened, that we got into an ac­ci­dent,” said Dil­lon, who also plays de­fence.The women were re­turn­ing to Ed­mon­ton from a game in Cal­gary about 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 24 when their char­tered bus clipped a semi that was pulled over on the high­way.“The first thing you think about is Hum­boldt,” re­called Cham­ber­lin, 20.Six­teen peo­ple — in­clud­ing 10 play­ers and the head coach — were killed and 13 play­ers were in­jured in April when a semi and a bus car­ry­ing the Hum­boldt Bron­cos of the Saskatchewan Ju­nior Hockey League col­lided at a ru­ral cross­roads.Dil­lon, 21, went to high school with one of the in­jured play­ers, Derek Pat­ter, who’s back with the Bron­cos this sea­son.Ben­ning knew two of the play­ers who died — Jaxon Joseph and Stephen Wack — through school and hockey in the Ed­mon­ton area.“What are the odds?” Ben­ning said. “When I clued into what was ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing, I thought this is what the boys heard when they were on the bus. This is how they felt.“I’m not try­ing to be over-dra­matic, but it felt like we were go­ing to die, be­cause no­body knew what was hap­pen­ing.”Coach Howie Draper and some of the play­ers had cuts on their faces. Two team­mates were taken to hospi­tal with mi­nor in­juries, in­clud­ing glass in their eyes.Every­one is back on the ice now and some play­ers are adding their voices to a call from some Bron­cos par­ents for manda­tory seat­belts on team buses.“It’s a pretty easy thing to do that can save your life,” said Cham­ber­lin.There have been no changes by Hockey Canada, the na­tional gov­ern­ing body for the sport. But some leagues, in­clud­ing the Saskatchewan ju­nior league, have made seat­belt use a pri­or­ity.Sev­eral teams have al­ready made it a habit to wear seat­belts on buses and tweet un­der the #buck­le­up­forthe­bron­cos hash­tag.The move­ment grew af­ter Tri­cia Wack, whose son Stephen died in the Bron­cos crash, wrote an opin­ion piece that ran in news­pa­pers across the coun­try.For­mer NHLER Chris Joseph, who lost his son Jaxon, has also said he’d like to see reg­u­lar seat­belt use on buses.“It’s crazy. We all are com­fort­able wear­ing seat­belts in cars. We don’t mind wear­ing seat­belts on air­planes. Yet, some­how, we get on a bus and feel like we’re safe,” he said.The is­sue was also raised af­ter a fa­tal bus crash in­volv­ing the Swift Cur­rent Bron­cos of the Western Hockey League in 1986. Four play­ers were killed when the bus hit a patch of black ice. Many of the 24 oth­ers on the bus were in­jured.A coro­ner’s in­quest re­port, which was ob­tained through a free­dom of in­for­ma­tion re­quest, said three of the four died from spinal in­juries they re­ceived when they were thrown up­wards into the roof of the bus. The fourth died when he was crushed by the bus.The coro­ner rec­om­mended that leg­is­la­tion be en­acted that would re­quire team buses to be equipped with seat­belts and would en­sure they were used.But there was no fol­lowup and there have been no changes at the pro­vin­cial level since the Hum­boldt crash.The fed­eral gov­ern­ment an­nounced in June that all newly built high­way buses will be re­quired to have seat­belts by Septem­ber 2020.Some char­ter bus com­pa­nies point out that many new buses al­ready have seat­belts, but there is no way to en­sure every­one is wear­ing them.On the night of the Pan­das crash, most team mem­bers were wear­ing seat­belts when the bus left Cal­gary be­cause the roads were icy, Ben­ning said.“We’ve made the Cal­gary road trip so many times,” she said. “Every­one was try­ing to get some sleep ... so some of the girls for sure took seat­belts off try­ing to get cosy.”She and the oth­ers ex­pect they will make it a habit and try to get the word out to other play­ers.“You don’t think it’s go­ing to hap­pen to your team or your friends or your fam­ily, but that’s not how the world works,” Cham­ber­lin said.“It’s just luck of the draw.”

Pan­das play­ers Abby Ben­ning, left, Cayle Dil­lon and Kirsten Cham­ber­lin say they thought of the Hum­boldt Bron­cos when their team bus crashed in Novem­ber.

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