UPDATE: Fatal Tofino boat accident under investigation

Two Albertans died in the incident while the other three have been released from hospital

UPDATE: The Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause behind the Tofino boat accident that left two people dead on Sunday afternoon. The federal agency has identified the fishing vessel as the Catatonic. On Wednesday, the safety board reported that the vessel was docked in Tofino and investigators are on scene.

The BC Coroners Services is also looking into the deaths of the two Alberta men in Sunday’s sport fishing tragedy.

They died when a 8.5-metre sport fishing catamaran fishing for halibut capsized Sunday afternoon in the open ocean northwest of Bartlett Island.

Police say five men were pulled from the water by other sports fishermen in the area, given lifesaving assistance by Coast Guard personnel and taken to local hospital. Two — one 32, the other 42 — did not survive. The other three were treated and released.

Courtenay pilot Malcolm Fletcher, who works for Tofino-based Atleo River Air Service, was preparing for a day of flying charter when he joined the search near the Island. He was the first person to spot the capsized boat in the water.

“Generally you’d have a spotter, but I was (flying) solo. I started doing a grid pattern and I was getting further out. Maybe 10 minutes into it, I saw a part of the capsized boat and saw five red spots. That’s generally indicative of someone wearing immersion suits.”

Fletcher explained he was flying about 1,000 feet above the water. It was difficult to see due to “strong whitecapping westerly winds.”

“A lot of the islands aren’t on standard maps, so it’s really important to have local knowledge.”

READ: Five confirmed dead after Leviathan II sinks near Tofino

The crew managed to get a distress call in with a rough location, he noted, but there was no specific GPS location on the boat. Once he located its position, he transmitted the information to a nearby Buffalo plane from CFB Comox which was dispatched to look for the passengers and subsequently dropped flares.

Sub-Lt. Melissa Kia with the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria said someone on the boat made a distress call around 1:20 p.m.

“We were able to talk with the vessel, live, to confirm that the five passengers were abandoning into the water. While the boat was attempting to get in a better position to speak with us via cellphone, it lost communications with the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre,” she said.

Coast guard rescue boats, a Royal Canadian Air Forces helicopter and a plane from CFB Comox were all dispatched to look for the passengers, and a broadcast was put out asking marine vessels in the area to search the area.

“All five people were recovered from the water by two vessels of opportunity (non-coast guard boats) that were very close to the position,” Kia said.

Coast Guard spokesman Dan Bate said the boats linked up with the coast guard, and an off-duty paramedic provided CPR to one passenger while a Coast Guard Rescue Specialist tried to resuscitate another.

Tofino mayor Josie Osborne gathered with senior staff members including emergency program coordinator Keith Orchiston Sunday afternoon to stay in the loop as information came in.

“Of course, your heart sinks when you hear something like this and in the immediate minutes and hours you don’t know all the details. You just hope for the best,” she said.

She said the mood in Tofino was somber but supportive Monday morning.

“Everybody is doing everything they can to rally support for the victims’ families, the survivors, and the first responders and their families too,” she said. “It’s obviously really sad and very tragic.”

She said Tofino has not reached out to the survivors or victim’s family members, but that she will offer support wherever needed.

“There’s been no official reaching out but we know they’ve been well cared for,” she said. “There’s no official role, but I think mine is one of communication and connection and making sure people have access to the resources they need to support them.

RCMP senior media relations officer Sgt. Annie Linteau said Tofino RCMP will be assisting RCMP West Coast Marine Services and Transportation Safety Board in the investigation and in determining the cause.

Check back for more updates as they become available

– with files from The Canadian Press

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