British Columbia

2 B.C. coast guard volunteers die as boat capsizes

Two coast guard volunteers are dead after a boat capsized in Skookumchuck Narrows, near Sechelt on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast, on Sunday morning.
The rigid-hull inflatable boat capsized during a training exercise. (CBC)

Two coast guard volunteers are dead after a boat capsized Sunday morning in Skookumchuck Narrows, near Sechelt on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast.

Capt. Annie Djiosta, a public affairs officer with the Royal Canadian Navy in Esquimalt, said a rigid hull inflatable boat with four people on board capsized at about 11:30 a.m. PT.  

"Of the four people on board … the boat, two were rescued almost immediately thanks to people on board a vessel that happened to be on the scene of the incident," Djiosta said.

"The other two people were pronounced dead … those two people unfortunately were trapped underneath the hull."

Djiosta said the victims were both female, while the two people pulled from the water were men.

Capt. Justin Olsen with the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre Victoria said the boat may have been out training.

"This is the first case I've heard of where they've had an accident of this severity," he said. "We're quite shocked to learn that it was part of the search and rescue community and we were surprised."

Olsen said the Skookumchuck Narrows is a popular area for thrill-seekers. He said the current there is rapid, but it's too early to speculate on the cause of the accident.

Peter Sly, fire chief of the Egmont and District Volunteer Fire Department, said he watched the rescue from his home and saw several boats trying to respond to the overturned inflatable.   

Sly said the rescue lasted more than two hours and drew the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Cape Caution, a Buffalo aircraft, Cormorant helicopter, members of the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue from Pender Harbour, B.C., as well as local boats.   

Area is dangerous

Sly said the area can become dangerous, especially when tides as large as 5.5 metres rush through the narrows of the local inlet, forming waves and whirlpools.

At the time of the accident, the current was running at about 24 km/h, said Sly.   

"Several people have lost their lives over the years in the rapids," he said.

Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield released a written statement Sunday evening saying he was "deeply saddened" to hear about the deaths of the two volunteers.

"I would like to express my sincere condolences to their families, friends and crew members. As search and rescue partners there to protect Canadians on the water, the Canadian Coast Guard shares the pain of this tragic loss," read the statement.

"The volunteers in the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue team and the Coast Guard Auxiliary make up a crucial part of the marine search and rescue network in Canada. Their commitment and dedication to saving lives, with all the dangers associated with marine search and rescue missions and training, is second to none."

With files from The Canadian Press