Saskatoon

'Alanna is our miracle': Saskatoon figure skater survives fiery crash, but loses both parents

Alanna Liu's parents, Yaoqin Wang and Enwu Liu, travelled to B.C. every year to watch their daughter compete in a high-calibre figure skating competition. This year's event would be the last time they watched their daughter glide across the ice. 

Alanna Liu, 18, survived a 10-vehicle crash, but parents were killed

Alanna Liu competed in B.C. the weekend before she was injured and her parents were killed in a car crash in Alberta. She received a score of 44.79, earning a chance to compete at a national qualifier in Edmonton in December. (Skate Canada)

Alanna Liu's parents, Yaoqin Wang and Enwu Liu, travelled to B.C. every year to watch their daughter compete in a high-calibre figure skating competition. 

This year's event would be the last time they watched their daughter glide across the ice. 

"You could see the pride and joy in their eyes," said David Schultz, Alanna's coach, of the skater's parents after she competed on Aug. 16. Liu received a score of 44.79, earning a spot at a national qualifier in Edmonton in December

Wang, 52, and Enwu Liu, 54, were killed Aug. 20 in a fiery 10-vehicle crash as the family was driving back to their home in Saskatoon. One of two semi-trucks involved in the crash ignited, engulfing the scene in flames and black smoke. 

Alanna, 18, was airlifted from the crash site near Cereal, Alta. to a hospital in Calgary. 

Schultz was the first person the authorities notified about Alanna being hurt in the crash, which also killed a 69-year-old woman from Saskatoon in a separate vehicle. Schultz spent the weekend after the crash at the hospital with Alanna.  

"Alanna is such a bright person so the face that she puts on is brave but this will be of course the hardest thing she's ever had to go through in her life," said Schultz.

The funerals for Wang, 52, and Enwu Liu, 54, were held in Calgary on Aug. 28. Schultz said Alanna's closest remaining family in Canada are her older sister in Ottawa and one cousin. 

He said Alanna is conscious and awake in hospital. He was able to speak to her over the weekend about her future. 

Saskatchewan figure skater Alanna Liu with her coach David Schultz after her skate at the B.C. competition she and her family were driving back from when they were caught in a 10-vehicle crash. Liu was injured in the crash and her parents Enwu Liu and Yaoqin Wang were killed. (Skate Canada)

He said they talked about how she can use the strength and perseverance she developed through her sport to navigate her future after the crash.

"I think any time you lose 50 per cent of your family … I don't know if she knows how to handle this, it's just one day at a time," said Schultz. 

Alanna had been living in Regina to train as one of nine skaters on the Skate Canada Saskatchewan High Performance elite team.

Schultz said Alanna was offered scholarships through multiple universities but chose to attend the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon to be closer to her family. She was scheduled to start her studies in science next week, with long-term plans to study medicine.

A witness says a tanker truck hit multiple cars at a construction site near Oyen, Alta., on Monday afternoon. (Linda Nothing)

Although he expects it will be a long road to recovery, Schultz said Alanna is a "one of a kind kid" that he expects to return to skating and do great things, whether it be through competing, choreography or coaching. 

"I think in times of tragedy you look for places that you would be comfortable, places that make you happy, and skating would be that place [for Liu]," said Schultz. 

Alanna Liu skates in the pre-novice women free program at the Canada Winter Games in Prince George, B.C., in 2015. (The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward)

The skating community in Saskatoon is fundraising to support Alanna's recovery. 

Stacey Patenaude and Susan Savino, whose daughters skate with Alanna, have started a GoFundMe page. The campaign has already far exceeded its $5,000 goal by raising more than $16,000. 

Savino said Alanna was a mentor to younger skaters whose skill on the ice made anyone who was watching her "get goosebumps." 

"We have watched Alanna grow," said Savino. 

"No skater has shown the work ethic that she has. Jumping, jumping, jumping. Falling, falling falling … she came from nowhere to this high level skater that everyone looks up to." 

She and Patenaude said the whole skating community is hurting, not only for Alanna but for the loss of her parents. 

Enwu Liu and Yaoqin Wang were killed in a major crash near Cereal, Alta. on Aug. 20. (McInnis and Holloway Funeral Homes website)

"We try to look at it in the positive that Alanna is our miracle," said Savino. "To be able to walk away from that tragedy is a blessing."

The RCMP is still investigating what caused the crash, which occurred at around 4:30 p.m. CST in a construction zone. Three semi-trailers and seven passenger vehicles were involved. 

Alanna Liu poses with fellow Saskatoon figure skater Sarah Grieve. (Submitted)

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said 12 vehicles were involved in the crash. In fact the number of vehicles was 10.
    Aug 29, 2019 5:10 PM CT

About the Author

Alicia Bridges is a digital and broadcast journalist at CBC Saskatoon. Email her at alicia.bridges@cbc.ca.

With files from Radio-Canada's Gabrielle Proulx

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