Tragic accident leads to five deaths and one missing
By Cazzy Lewchuk, Staff Writer
On October 25, a whale-watching vessel sank off the coast of Tofino, BC. A total of 27 people were on board the Leviathan II when it capsized, prompting a mass search-and-rescue mission. Tragically, five people died in the accident, with another who is still missing at press time. All five victims were British citizens, with the missing being an Australian national.
While investigations are still being conducted by the Transportation and Safety Board (TSB), the boat was reportedly capsized by a rogue wave. Tofino is well-known for its extreme waves, making it an international tourist destination for surfing in addition to camping, fishing, and whale-watching.
The victims were identified by the BC Coroner’s Services as David Thomas, 50; his son Stephen, 18; Nigel Hooker, 63; Katie Taylor, 29; and Jack Slater, 76. The missing man has been unofficially identified as Rav Pillay.
Among those who were the first to witness, report, and aid the accident were members of local fishing boats alongside other whale-watching vessels and local Ahousaht First Nations residents, who are credited with helping to save the 21 survivors.
Premier Christy Clark specifically praised the Ahousaht First Nations people on October 27 in a press conference, stating: “The Ahousaht First Nation did not miss a beat. First Nations on this coast have been fishing it for millennia. Nobody knows the water better.”
Clark also elaborated that the government will be working to provide further emergency response training to local First Nations in the future.
Marc-André Poisson, director of marine investigations for the TSB, told CBC in a press statement that most of the passengers would have been on one side of the boat when the wave hit. “This would have raised the centre of gravity, affecting the vessel’s stability […] None of this preliminary information should be used in isolation to draw any conclusions at this point.”
Efforts are underway by the TSB to recover the Leviathan II to salvage and refloat the wreck. Some electronic instruments from the boat has already been recovered and sent away for observation, which will hopefully provide explanations for the chain of events that led to the capsizing.
The business owning the Leviathan II, Jamie’s Whaling Station, closed after the accident and has not reopened. However, most other businesses in the area have resumed as usual. The accident is not expected to hurt the tourist trade in Tofino, which attracts as many as one million visitors each year.