Seventeen people – most of whom are young students – were hospitalized after a falling from a height during a field trip at Winnipeg’s Fort Gibraltar. However, many of the children are now being discharged and sent home, according to an update from the hospital.
Jay Shaw, assistant chief with the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, said they received a 911 call shortly before 10 a.m. on Wednesday. He said a group of students were on a school field trip when they fell from a structure about four to six metres high while inside the Fort Gibraltar complex – a reconstructed fort used during the Fur Trade.
Craig Sai was one of the students on the platform when it collapsed.
“When we were walking across (it), I stepped my foot on it and then the bridge – I heard a cracking noise and then I was on the ground,” Sai told CTV News outside the Children’s Hospital Wednesday afternoon.
“It was very scary. One moment I was on the bridge, the second moment I was falling through the air onto the ground.”
Chantelle Craig, a woman who lives in the area, said she was in her backyard Wednesday morning when she heard a siren.
“After that it was just ambulance after ambulance, and fire truck after fire truck,” she said. “There was at least five ambulances, there was at least five fire trucks, police… It was all hands on deck.”
She said she saw at least two children taken away on stretchers.
A total of 28 patients were assessed on scene, and 17 people were taken to hospital including 16 children – all of whom are 10 to 11 years old – and one adult. Three children were transported to hospital in unstable condition. The rest of the students and the adult are in stable condition.
Dr. Karen Gripp, the medical director of the children’s emergency department, said one child is being admitted to hospital overnight and will need surgery. The rest are expected to be discharged from hospital throughout the day.
She said most of the injuries the children had were broken bones. However none of the injuries were severe or life-threatening.
“It could have been so, so much worse,” she said.
A parent of one of the children on the field trip told CTV News the group had been on a platform when it broke and several students fell.
Images from inside the fort show a section of platform collapsed, with emergency tape surrounding the area. Emergency officials said they do not know what led to the fall.
A collapsed platform is seen inside Fort Gibraltar in Winnipeg on May 31, 2023. Sixteen students and one adult were taken to hospital following a fall inside the fort. (Image source: Glenn Pismenny/CTV News Winnipeg)
Erchana Paul said her 10-year-old boy was in the Grade 5 class on the field trip. She said she found out about the incident from a group message with other parents.
“I just totally broke down. Like, how did this happen? I was just worried about all the kids, just make sure all the kids are okay. It is just so heartbreaking,” Paul told reporters while standing outside the Children’s Hospital.
When she heard the news, Paul and her husband both tried calling the school but were not able to get through, so they rushed to the emergency room to see if their son was there. However, staff at the hospital said their son was not there, and may be at the school.
“I’m going to go to the school just to see if he is there,” she said, adding several parents of students are either at the hospital or back at the school.
In a statement to CTV News, St. John’s-Ravenscourt School confirmed the students were a part of its Grade 5 class. The statement said parents and families of the students have been contacted. The remaining staff and students who were not injured have returned to school where they are receiving care from counsellors.
“We are doing everything we can to support our Grade 5 students and teachers and their families,” the statement reads. The school has asked for privacy at this time.
In a post on Twitter hours after the incident, Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham said he is deeply concerned.
“My thoughts are with those injured and their families,” the mayor said in his tweet. “Grateful for the swift response from Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Services.”
In a statement, Festival du Voyageur, which leases the fort from the city, said it is cooperating with authorities.
“Our thoughts are with all those who are affected by this difficult, sad and extremely unfortunate situation,” wrote marketing director Chantal Vielfaure in an emailed statement. “We would like to thank first responders and personnel that responded quickly to the incident to prioritize the well-being of all those involved.”
Vielfaure said Fort Gibraltar will be closed for “an indeterminate period of time.”
A City of Winnipeg spokesperson said inspectors will be attending the scene, and a provincial Workplace Safety and Health investigation will take place.
“An initial search of our records would seem to indicate that repairs were made to the elevated walkway in 2004 and 2013. We have not received any complaints related to the property based on an initial search of our records,” the spokesperson said.