CHÉTICAMP — Search teams from First Nations communities in the three Maritime provinces are working together to bring a lost brother home.
A co-ordinated search of the coastlines on both sides of the Northumberland Strait is looking for any sign of the crab fishing boat from Elsipogtog First Nation that sank on April 3 or its missing captain.
A headquarters for the search team was set up early Saturday morning at the Cabot Trail arena in the heart of Chéticamp, a French-speaking fishing village in Inverness County, along the northwest coast of Cape Breton Island.
Four of the five crew members of the VF Tyhawk were rescued after it capsized in frigid waters 16 nautical miles from the Chéticamp shoreline and were taken to hospital, where 39-year old Seth Monahan died shortly after.
A 25-hour search by the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Coast Guard failed to locate the fifth crew member, Craig Sock, affectionately known as Jumbo, and was suspended. The 50-year old is still missing and presumed dead.
Sock's first cousin, Richard Levi, is on leave from his job as a fisheries officer with the federal department of fisheries and oceans and is using his nautical expertise to direct the volunteers to areas where debris may wash ashore based on the direction of the winds and currents.
He keeps busy with maps and computer screens and discussing plans with the dozen or so fishers that have come over to Chéticamp from his home community of Elsipogtog. The missing captain was his close friend and his best man at his wedding. He sticks to talking in technical terms.
He consults a winding red line on his laptop — the path of the vessel's emergency position-indicating radio beacon, a device that broadcasts the GPS of a capsized boat to the Coast Guard and, in this case, continued to broadcast its location in 30-minute increments for 10 days.
While there are many factors at play, Levi said this technology can help them decide where to concentrate their efforts.
We'koqma'q band councillor Steven Googoo had crews on ATVs searching the coastline from Port Hawkesbury to Inverness on Saturday, while other groups from Paqtnkek and Pictou Landing First Nations searched along the shore of Pictou County on mainland Nova Scotia.
Dave Morgan of AxAir aviation services out of Port Hastings made several flights over the Northumberland Strait between western Cape Breton and the eastern tip of Prince Edward Island in his Cessna 421B to search for signs of the Tyhawk fishing vessel and its captain.
"We're just hoping to bring some closure to Jumbo's family and that's the best that we can do at this point, and we'll certainly continue to help with their efforts until all options are exhausted," he said.
A number of drones will assist in the aerial search, but neither the planes nor the drones were able to go out in the wind over the weekend. The hope is that the next few days will bring better conditions.
The search team plans to rent specialized equipment to search underwater as well, including sonar technology and an underwater observation device to locate the wreckage 200 feet below the surface on the ocean floor.
These things aren’t cheap. Add in accommodations, meals, travel, and supplies and the costs start piling up. The group has set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for the extensive search. Donations have come in from individuals and communities, including $2,500 each from We'koqma'q, Wagmatcook and Eskasoni First Nations. Chéticamp councillor Alfred Poirrier donated the use of the arena and has put a call out to his constituents with Zodiac boats to provide assistance. A steady stream of food, including hot meals, is being dropped off to the volunteers.
Starr Paul of Eskasoni First Nation is heading up the volunteer efforts in Unama'ki. Like Levi, the tragedy is close to home for her — her ex-husband is Sock's older brother. She is close with their mother Eva and family in Elsipogtog, and is doing everything she can to help.
"He's a human being, you know, he has children, he has grandchildren, he has a whole community and nobody was out there searching, and (his mother) needs help, she's in New Brunswick and it happened here in Chéticamp. It's difficult for her because she's grieving her son and also trying to get people out there, get resources out there to bring him home," Paul said.
Elsipogtog First Nation Chief Arren Sock said his community is feeling an overall sense of shock and fear.
"A lot of the guys that are out fishing are coming to the realization that if it could happen to an experienced captain, it could happen to anybody. At the same time, there's a sense of sadness, but then again people have to pay their bills and they have to go back to work, so it's a lot of mixed emotions," he said.
Sock, who arrived in Chéticamp late Friday to assist in the search, expressed his appreciation for the outpouring of support from communities throughout Nova Scotia that have contributed volunteers, resources, and donations. The near-freezing temperatures, high winds, and precipitation hindered the coastline search on foot and from the air for most of the weekend, causing some frustration, Sock said.
"Jumbo is a close friend of mine, I worked for him, and we've been involved in our local band politics together for the last twelve years, so yeah, it's going to be quite difficult going forward without him in physical presence I guess you could say," he said.
In addition to being a well-known fishing boat captain and longtime band councillor, Jumbo was a proud hockey father and lead proponent of the bid for the Kraft Hockeyville contest, which awards $250 thousand for arena renovations and the opportunity to host an NHL hockey game. Sock said the April 10 announcement on Hockey Night in Canada that Elsipogtog was the first Indigenous community to win the competition was some much-needed good news. He's looking forward to a grand re-opening of the Chief Young Eagle Recreation Centre in his old friend's honour.
The recovery effort will continue this week and "as long as it takes," said Paul, who is asking for volunteers to scan the coast of western Cape Breton and eastern Prince Edward Island for any evidence of the lost boat and captain, which could be pieces of aluminum or fiberglass, or fluorescent green styrofoam buoys. Paul said anyone wishing to donate time or money can contact her directly on Facebook for more information, or search for the GoFundMe page "Help find Jumbo."
"Everybody's feeling this pain, we're all connected and we all have to help each other. Jumbo was a friend to us whenever we needed him. He was there for us, and so now we need to be here for him, and we believe in our hearts that we're going to find him and bring him home."
Ardelle Reynolds, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cape Breton Post