A search of the area where five fishermen are believed to have perished after their boat overturned in stormy seas off Nova Scotia has turned up nothing but scattered debris.
Three aircraft patrolled the area of the Miss Ally's last known position Thursday morning and afternoon, following a plea from the families of the missing men to continue the search.
A Canadian Armed Forces CC-130 Hercules aircraft joined aircraft from Transport Canada and Provincial Airlines to patrol an area measuring more than 1,700 square kilometres. There was no sighting of the capsized hull of the boat that had previously been spotted by the Canadian Coast Guard.
In a news release sent late Thursday night, RCMP Cpl. Scott MacRae said a small debris field spotted about 10 nautical miles east of the Miss Ally's last known position was all that search crews spotted.
In the news release, MacRae said that the location and concentration of the debris meant it likely came from the Miss Ally.
RCMP gathered the families of the missing men to provide them with the most current update.
"This is devastating to the families and to the entire community. These men were deeply loved and the loss of young lives will impact the hearts and souls of the fishers and their community for many years to come," RCMP Supt. Sylvie Bourassa-Muise, District Policing Officer, Southwest Nova Scotia, said in the statement.
The coast guard vessel, Sir William Alexander, is steaming toward the debris field.
"The vessel is being deployed to provide safety and security on the water and is prepared to standby until further plans are developed," MacRae said in the statement.
On Friday, DND will conduct another flight over the last known position of the debris.
RCMP said chaplains, counsellors, and representatives from RCMP Victim Services will be in Woods Harbour to provide support and assistance to the families and friends of the missing men.
Formal search called off Tuesday
The formal search for crew members Billy Jack Hatfield, Joel Hopkins, Katlin Nickerson, Steven Cole Nickerson and Tyson Townsend was called off Tuesday night after officials concluded there was little hope any of the men would have survived the rough seas and cold water.
RCMP are now handling it as a missing persons case.
Sarah Thorburne, stepmother of Katlin Nickerson, said immediate family members of the fishermen met with the RCMP on Wednesday night to plead their case to have the 13.5-metre boat searched before it sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
"Our wishes were taken into consideration last night after the meeting. There was a request put in for National Defence to provide assistance and we were just waiting for the response this morning," she told CBC News on Thursday in a telephone interview from Woods Harbour.
George Hopkins, Joel Hopkins's father, said a private fishing boat from Ecum Secum is travelling to the Miss Ally with four divers on board. He said other boats were also planning to assist in the search if the navy decided not to.
The five fishermen left Cape Sable Island on Feb. 12 to go fishing for halibut, and ran into bad weather five days later.
Several of their family members have said they believed the crew may have been trapped inside the wheelhouse on the Miss Ally when it overturned in 10-metre waves while being whipped by winds.
Hopkins said the Canadian Coast Guard tracked the overturned ship and he wanted it searched.
"We need closure now. We need this boat to be looked at that's turned over. We need it looked at to know that there's no one inside that boat," he told CBC News on Wednesday.
"I'm thinking if it was a movie star or some high politician, this would be looked at really quick. I'm not sure that it isn't going to be but I'm not getting any feeling that it is."
Maj. Martell Thompson of the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax said the most recent sighting of the boat's hull was confirmed by crew members aboard the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Earl Grey at 4:26 p.m. on Wednesday.
Asked whether consideration was given to searching the hull, he said weather and sea conditions didn't allow the hull to be safely boarded.
'We cried so hard for help'
Thorburne said people in the community of Woods Harbour, where the missing men lived, contacted a professional dive team about going out and searching the vessel in case officials did not respond.
"We cried so hard for help," she said.
"This is a very strong community. If officials didn't help us, then they would have a fleet of 30-something boats out there, if not more, searching for the boys themselves."
The military has said the Miss Ally's emergency locator beacon — which typically activates when it hits salt water — transmitted a signal on Sunday night about 120 kilometres southeast of Liverpool.
There were no distress calls broadcast from the vessel's crew before the beacon went off, said the navy.
Early Monday morning, the crew aboard a U.S. Coast Guard jet reported seeing a life-raft in the dark, but they couldn't tell if anyone was inside or where the raft came from. The life-raft was not seen again in the two-day air and sea search that followed.
"If my boy is in that boat, I want to bring him home," said Stephen Nickerson, father of Steven Cole Nickerson.
"I think he's in that boat."