Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Leviathan II Tragedy

"This vessel has operated for 20 years with an absolutely perfect safety record. This is something just totally out of the blue. We just don't understand and we won't know the answers until the Transportation Safety Board finishes their investigations."
"On larger vessels [like Leviathan II] we're not required to have the passengers wear the life jackets. On smaller open boats they are."
Jamie Bray, owner, Jamie's Whaling Station, Tofino, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

"They must have got swamped by a huge wave and it flipped their boat completely. I don't think they had time to do anything."
"Whatever happened, happened so quick."
Alec Dick, first responder

"It wasn't even blowing hard. This is the largest boat in Tofino, and I was really surprised that it went down."
"They [rescuers] grabbed on to a body and while they were doing that another body popped up and surfaced in the water. They grabbed two and said they had a difficult time because their bodies were covered in diesel. There was three of them they [relatives] brought in."
Joe Martin, carver, Tal-o-qui-aht tribal member
Brian Hutchinson/National Post
Brian Hutchinson/National Post  Clarence Smith, from the Ahousaht First Nation, describes the rescue effort in Tofino
It was fishing boats from the nearby Ahousaht First Nation that first arrived near Plover Reefs, west of Vargas Island when the whale-watching boat Leviathan II, a 65-foot covered cruiser, suddenly capsized in a 30-foot depth, after four in the afternoon on Sunday afternoon. In total, 27 people were aboard the tour boat, including tourists and crew. Of that number 21 were rescued; five bodies were recovered and one person was missing.

At that point -- where sea lions are often seen, an attraction for tourists who take such tours in hopes of seeing wild sea creatures like orcas and grey whales -- an area called Sea Lion Rocks by locals, there was nothing, evidently, to warn anyone, crew or tourists, that they would shortly be in trouble. When the ship had left the harbour in Tofino the waters were glassy-calm. But past the tip of Vargas Island, swells are more common, with two-metre waves plowing onto the rocks, the sea lions undisturbed by it all.

The first sign that something was wrong was when two men [Clarence Smith and Kenny Brown] fishing in their small boat from the Ahousaht First Nation, suddenly saw a flare reach for the sky; a distress signal, but when they dialled their radio there was no emergency call. The two men turned their fishing boat toward Sea Lion Rocks, and soon screaming was audible from panicked people. They were incredulous to see the Leviathan II close to fully capsized, its bow above water.

Albert Titian/Facebook
Albert Titian/Facebook  The Leviathan II whale-watching boat capsized near Tofino, B.C., Sunday, with 27 people aboard. Five Britons died, and one person remains missing

And then they saw people in the water, some on liferafts, and they began the difficult task of trying to retrieve as many as they could from the frigid, choppy water, relieved to soon see other fishing boats arrive to offer their assistance in the calamity as well, hauling frightened and freezing people out of the sea, and bodies as well of those who had died. A traumatic experience for everyone, the tourists whose furthest thought would have been they would be in danger, the rescuers, and the boat owners.

Later, the BC Coroners Service verified that three of the dead had come to Canada as tourists; one person came from Ontario, and the other lived in British Columbia; four men and one woman died, between the ages of 18 and 76. The search had been called off late Sunday night, a statement from the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre revealed. With Mounties taking charge afterward, of the search for the missing passenger.

And the fisherfolk of the Ahousaht First Nation determined to give aid to the search launched by the RCMP, as is their custom. "They know these waters. They have a custom not to leave a body out at sea", said volunteer Robert Burridge.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito   Ahousaht First Nation boats patrol an area on Monday, Oct.26, 2015 where the whale-watching boat Leviathan II capsized near Tofino, B.C. Sunday afternoon.

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