Abandon ship: Water levels, ice chunks push Edmonton Queen to shore

A maintenance crew aboard the Edmonton Queen say they had to abandon ship on Wednesday when rising water levels and thick ice chunks thrust the boat toward the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. 

A four-man crew was doing routine winter maintenance when water levels started to surge around 3 p.m. Wednesday. The water level rose by nearly two metres in an hour.

Edmonton Riverboat Manager Matt Beaubien said in an emailed statement "the wildly fluctuating levels" were a result of an ice jam that broke free near downtown Edmonton on Wednesday.

A mountain of ice chunks started to accumulate at the bow of the ship, pushing it against the banks of the river. 

The metal trusses on the gangway were damaged as the boat rocked toward the shore.

Chief Engineer James Mendoza said he was also concerned the steel cables anchoring the boat to land would snap under the pressure of the ice chunks. 

"Well, it's kind of scary because the ... banging, the boat is shaking," he said. "So basically, for our own safety of the crew, we just abandoned the boat."

Mendoza said he looked on from shore until the boat came to a standstill, partially roosted on the ice flow, around 6 p.m. 

"We were kind of afraid she'd be floating downstream," he said. 

Mendoza returned to assess the ship on Thursday morning and adjust the mooring lines. He said the gangway and awning took the brunt of the damage. The hull and the mechanics of the ship did not sustain any damage, he said. 

"This is the first time I've ever seen this," said Captain Daniel Mcaleer, as he surveyed the vessel on Thursday.  

Jordan Omstead/CBC

In the statement, Beaubien said water levels were expected to rise again and lift the ship back into the river. 

In July, firefighters had to rescue around 300 passengers from the Edmonton Queen when a strong current stranded the boat.