Canadian whale watching boat sinks: Five dead after tourist vessel goes down …

At least five people have died and one person remains missing after a whale watching boat with 27 people on board sank off Vancouver Island, Canadian authorities said. The vessel made a mayday call late on Sunday afternoon during clear and sunny weather near Tofino, a popular destination for whale watchers on Canada’s West Coast, the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre said.

“We can now confirm a death toll of five to date in the whale watching boat incident near Tofino,” she said. Lt.-Cmdr Desmond James, a spokesman for the rescue agency staffed by Canadian military and Coast Guard personnel, said late Sunday that the agency’s search concluded with five people dead, 21 rescued and one person missing.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police will take over the search for the person who remains missing.

As of right now the case has been turned over to the RCMP and it’s a missing person file, he said. Fortunately, we did manage to rescue 21 people.

The boat was partially submerged 8 nautical miles (12 nautical kilometers) west of Tofino.

In pictures: Canada whale-watching boat sinks

Coast Guard vessels and search and rescue aircraft had searched into the night for survivors, helicopters and aircrafts combing the waters off of Tofino had equipment to search in the darkness. Boats from the nearby Ahoushat First Nation arrived first on the scene, said aboriginal Councilor Tom Campbell. He was on the waterfront and watched as rescue personnel brought several survivors ashore.

“Their looks tell the whole story,” he said by phone from Tofino. “You can’t describe looks on people that are lost. They look totally lost shocked and lost.”

Campbell said his cousin pulled at least eight people from the water into a rescue boat.

John Forde, who runs The Whale Centre, another whale watching operation, responded to the call for help and was told the search was for four or five missing people.

“It’s a pretty sad situation when you’re doing a grid pattern to an area hoping to see something,” he said adding that it didn’t look hopeful as time dragged on without finding more survivors. The ship that went down was the 20-meter Leviathan II, operated by Jamie’s Whaling Station, Forde said. He said he had no idea how it could’ve sunk.

“Over the course of a season and years we take out thousands and thousands of people on these trips in conditions similar today,” Forde said. “I have no idea what the issue was or what actually happened.”

The Transportation Safety Board confirmed it was investigating Sunday’s incident. Brandon Hilbert from Tofino Water Taxi said local companies all pitched in to help in the rescue effort. Tofino fishing guide Lance Desilets said at least 12 rescue boats were already out on the water when he arrived on the scene.

“I saw a lot of personal belongings, a long diesel slick and the top 10 feet of the Leviathan II sticking out of the water,” Desilets said. “It’s a sad day for our community and the search and rescue people are doing the best that they can.”

Joe Martin, a member of the Tal-o-qui-aht tribe, was near the dock when rescue boats went out.

The ship was on the far side of Vargas Island in Clayoquot Sound, an area that Martin said can get really rough, but was not on Sunday.

“It wasn’t even blowing hard,” he said. “This is the largest boat in Tofino and I was really surprised that it went down.”


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