TOFINO, British Columbia, Canada, October 30, 2015 (ENS) – Five people have lost their lives and another is missing and presumed drowned after a whale watching trip off the west coast of Vancouver Island went wrong on October 25.
The passenger vessel Leviathan II left the town of Tofino at 1:30 pm local time on a whale watching tour. There were 24 passengers and three crew members on board. Around 3:45 pm, the vessel experienced problems and took on water.
The on-site team from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada investigating the accident has determined that most of the passengers and crew were on the top deck on the port, or left, side of the vessel. This would have raised the center of gravity, affecting the vessel stability.
A wave approached the vessel from the starboard, or right, quarter. The vessel tilted up and rolled and then capsized.
One life raft deployed and was activated, and at least two hand flares and one parachute rocket were fired.
Local First Nations fishermen of the Ahousaht Band were first on the scene to rescue passengers and crew.
They rescued victims from the water, immediately notified emergency services, and ferried the survivors to shore.
Five British nationals lost their lives in the incident. An Australian man is still missing and presumed drowned.
On Saturday, the captain of the whale watching boat issued a statement crediting the people on board with “heroism.”
Captain Wayne Dolby said while over the past week the people of Tofino and Ahousaht have been rightly credited for their response, the people who were on board also deserve to be praised.
“What we have not heard as much about is the courage and heroism of my passengers and crew who were involved in this terrible ordeal,” Dolby said.
Dolby, who has worked for the whale watching company Jamie’s Whaling Station for 18 years, said he is praying for the families involved.
The Leviathan II has been refloated and towed to a secure location on the north side of Vargas Island, where it is being monitored by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
To date, the TSB investigation team has interviewed survivors, first responders from the Canadian Coast Guard, and the fishermen who were first on the scene.
They have visited the vessel to examine and photograph what they could see. And they have recovered key electronic equipment from the vessel which is being sent to the TSB Engineering Laboratory in Ottawa for examination.
The first TSB team has temporarily left Tofino, but the investigation continues.
A broader team of Transportation Safety Board experts is being mobilized to plan the detailed vessel testing and will return in the coming days to conduct a thorough examination of the vessel.
From January 1, 2010, to October 24, 2015, there were 23 reportable occurrences involving whale watching vessels in Canada. Eight were accidents. None was fatal, but five of the accidents involved serious injuries to a total of six people.