British Columbia

Tofino whale-watching accident: What caused the boat to capsize?

The whale-watching boat accident that claimed the lives of five British nationals has many in the small town of Tofino, B.C., wondering what could have caused the vessel to capsize.

Weather conditions were fine, but area where boat overturned can be tricky to navigate

Cellphone video shows last moments of whale-watching boat 0:38

The whale-watching boat accident that claimed the lives of five British nationals and left another person missing has many in the small town of Tofino, B.C., wondering what could have caused the vessel to capsize.

The weather in the area when the MV Leviathan II sank on Sunday wasn't a concern, with reports of no winds and a slightly overcast sky. 

But a local man who used to operate a boat for Jamie's Whaling Station, the company that owns the MV Leviathan II, told CBC News that the Plover Reef area off Vargas Island, where the accident occurred, is tricky to navigate. 

"You have the ocean currents running by the coast here, and the tides running out," said Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation member Joe Martin.

"Also the tide from the inlet is running out, and it all kind of meets up in that place and it makes it really rough."

A shallow reef and sharp rocks in the area are also navigational hazards. 

Local fishing guide Shawn Heise was out in his boat Sunday afternoon, and attended the scene of the accident after hearing of the distress call. He said the swell was about two metres high, and shouldn't have been a problem for a boat the size of the Leviathan II.

He also said the Leviathan II had navigated the waters around Plover Reef "tons of times." 

"There's a lot of rocks in the area, but there's [deep] areas that you can go in-between rocks and view sea lions," Heise told CBC News. "But of course you've gotta keep an eye on things because there's swell.

"Occasionally a weird set of waves can come ... you always gotta be careful not to get broadside to them, to keep your bow into the waves as much as possible."

Heise said the coast guard instructed his boat to join in a parallel pattern search and to pick up debris. Heise said he pulled clothing, a running shoe, a purse and money from the water, before the search was called off due to darkness.

Fishermen pulled bodies from water

Martin said his brother and two nephews were fishing for halibut in the area when they first heard a whistle blowing, followed by emergency calls on the radio. 

When they arrived on the scene they saw people on other boats pulling victims from the water, and two bodies floating near the capsized vessel, which they recovered, Martin said.

"My brother and my nephew, they were backing up the boat and they bumped into another body that was just floating up," he said. 

"They said they had a difficult time to [pull it into the boat] because it was covered in diesel." 

Martin said his brother and nephews were quite traumatized by the rescue, and that the family held a get-together to allow them to talk about it. 

"Culturally, when things like this happen, we know they need to debrief, and let some of it go, if they can," he said.

The RCMP and volunteers resumed the search for the missing person Monday morning.

Three investigators from the Transportation Safety Board are enroute to Tofino. 

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