Mysterious cries for help lead to search of Partridge Island

Cries for help reported in the fog led firefighters, police and the Coast Guard on a search of the lower west side of Saint John.

8 people found on the island Sunday afternoon, police say

Employees at the Bay Ferries Terminal in west Saint John called police around 1 p.m. on Sunday when they heard a man yelling, as if in distress. (Julia Wright / CBC)

Cries in the fog led to a search by firefighters, emergency medical services, police and the Coast Guard — but crews didn't find what they expected on Partridge Island.

Employees at the Bay Ferries Terminal in west Saint John called police around 1 p.m. on Sunday when they heard a man yelling for help.

"They couldn't tell where it was coming from," said Sgt. Steve Wilson with Saint John police.

Since the cries were heard by multiple people, Wilson said, police and ambulance set up a command post at the ferry terminal and began co-ordinating a search and rescue effort with the fire department.

Search involving drone

A drone borrowed from a member of the public allowed police an aerial view of the coastline, Wilson said, but visibility was poor. Police ran the plates of a vehicle parked nearby, contacted the owner, and confirmed the driver had planned to go to the island that day.

Nine firefighters made their way across the breakwater on foot. The hike took the better part of an hour.

Trespassing on the island is illegal, but no trespassing signs are frequently torn down. (CBC)

"There were very bad conditions — it was so extremely foggy you could hardly see the shore," said Platoon Chief Eric Garland of the Saint John Fire Department. "It was really dangerous going out there."

Once on the island, firefighters found eight people there.

None of them had called or yelled for help, they said. The Coast Guard checked the perimeter of the island, including remnants of a weir floating in the water, but didn't find anyone in trouble.

"Everybody was escorted back across the breakwater by fire personnel," said Garland.

Still a mystery

Crews searched the breakwater and the island, but "there are no other missing people," Wilson said.

"We can't explain what the cries for help were about."

A possible explanation is that the voices of the people on the island carried strangely over the water, said Garland.

Charges have been discussed against the eight people found on the island, according to Wilson, but since many of the no trespassing signs on the breakwater at Bayshore Beach have been taken down, Wilson said, it's uncertain what the outcome of those charges might be.

The search operation kept the Coast Guard and well over a dozen first responders tied up until 2:30 p.m.

"This is the second time in the past few weeks alone that we've been out there," said Wilson, adding the last time police were called to the island, a young woman had seriously injured her foot.

"It's frustrating for emergency personnel," said Wilson.

"It taxes a lot of resources."