Weather a factor in sinking that left 2 Alberta men dead near Tofino, B.C., say RCMP

Weather a factor in sinking that left 2 Alberta men dead near Tofino, B.C., say RCMP

RCMP believe weather was a factor in the sinking of an 8.5-metre catamaran northwest of Tofino, B.C., on Sunday that left two Alberta men dead.

The vessel's skipper and four passengers spent an hour and a half in the water after their vessel sank near Vargas Island, near Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

RCMP say the two men who died were from Calgary and Lethbridge, Alta. One was 32 years old, the other 42. The three other men on board have been released from hospital after being treated.

Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne said all four passengers were construction workers on a recreational fishing trip. 

Osborne says the community sprang into action once the distress call from the vessel was received, around 1:20 p.m. She praised the efforts of search and rescue professionals, as well as private pilots who searched for the boats from the air and the private vessel captains who rescued the victims from the water.

"It's caring, it's compassionate, it's very professional, and it was exactly what I would expect from this community," Osborne said.

Cause not yet known

The five men were in the water for about 90 minutes before being rescued. The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) says this was due to challenging search conditions.

"The lifeboat from [the Tofino Coast Guard station] was underway in under four minutes from receiving contact from JRCC," said Sub-Lt. Melissa Kia, spokesperson for the JRCC. "[But] there was a search component to this search and rescue, because we didn't have a pinpoint location for them."

Kia said the catamaran lost communication with the JRCC before they were able to determine its exact location. She said the point of origin for the search was about three nautical miles off Bartlett Island, but the men were eventually found three nautical miles off Vargas Island, which is to the southeast.

"When we're looking for people in the water, if they're in two- to three-metre waves — for people that are in vessels sweeping, it makes for very small targets," Kia said. "You have a person going over the crest of the wave, and then they become invisible if you're on a boat."

Officials have not yet determined what caused the vessel to sink.

"It's really too early to say," said Staff Sgt. Annie Linteau, a spokesperson for the RCMP. "We're certainly going to be liaising with all investigative agencies here and looking at all factors that could have played a role in this."

Dangerous waters

The incident happened in the same general area as the sinking of the Leviathan II about 18 months ago.  Six people died in that sinking.

Osborne said the area is known to be dangerous for mariners.

"It is on the outside of the Clayoquot Sound, so anytime when you're in the outer ocean waters, of course there's a lot of risk involved," she said. "There was a considerable swell yesterday, and a bit of wind as well."

Since the sinking of the Levianthan II, Osborne said there has been increased training and coordination among local rescue personnel, First Nations and area residents.

The NDP MP for the Tofino area, Gord Johns, said it was too soon to comment on how any changes to Coast Guard service may have impacted the incident.

"I've been very vocal about that gap and the closure of that station in Ucluelet and the station in Comox but today we're really focused on this incident and making sure we support the investigation," he told Robyn Burns, host of CBC Radio's All Points West.

"In the weeks and the months to come, should there be questions about services and how they played out, we'll certainly be asking them."

With files from Bal Brach, Rafferty Baker and CBC Radio One's The Early Edition and All Points West.

Correction : An earlier version of this story said there would be an investigation into the rescue response time. In fact, the JRCC says there was no issue with the response and there will be no investigation.(May 01, 2017 7:04 PM)