Search comes up empty Sunday for refugee advocate missing after boat flips on Lake Winnipeg

Search and rescue crews spent hours looking for Nour Ali after the boat he was in capsized at Bélair, Man on Saturday. His father, who was also on the boat, is dead.

Nour Ali’s father, who was also on the boat that capsized in Lake Winnipeg on Saturday, is dead

Search and rescue crews search Lake Winnipeg waters near Bélair, Man., on Sunday afternoon. Nour Ali remains missing after a boat he was in capsized Saturday. (Travis Golby/CBC)

A Kurdish refugee advocate who worked to help others come to Canada is missing after the boat he was in capsized on Lake Winnipeg at Bélair, Man., on Saturday.

Search and rescue crews spent hours looking for Nour Ali, 42, on Saturday. That continued on the water for much of Sunday, with about 50 loved ones and volunteers walking the shoreline looking for signs of Ali.

"We're just praying for Nour to be out there and alive," said Ali's good friend Hadji Hesso, director of the Yazidi Association of Manitoba, who planned to drive to Bélair to be with the family Sunday.

Hesso described Ali as a tireless member of the community who dedicated much of his life in recent years to helping newcomers adapt to life in Canada.

Ali's father, who was also on the boat, is dead, friends and family at the scene confirmed.

Members of the Canadian military, Canadian Coast Guard, RCMP, fire and paramedics took part in the search and rescue operations for Nour Ali on Saturday, after the boat he was in capsized on Lake Winnipeg. (Wildinette Paul/Radio-Canada)

RCMP said Sunday that five people were on the boat fishing when it took on water and capsized. Three men, aged 37, 48 and 65, were rescued from the water and taken to hospital, according to a news release. 

Several people on shore Saturday called 911 and tried to help, RCMP said. A 73-year-old man from Winnipeg was later found in the water, taken to shore and pronounced dead.

STARS Air Ambulance also landed at the scene Saturday but did not transport anyone to hospital.

About 50 friends and family continued to search for Ali Sunday.

Missing man spent years helping others

Ali fled Syria in 2006, and after spending time in refugee camps in China and Macao, he ended up in Manitoba with his wife and two daughters just over seven years ago.

Yachar Barakat, who, with Hesso, was among more than a dozen people to arrive at the boat launch Saturday evening, said Ali spent years helping others make the same journey.

Friends and family helped search and rescue crews Sunday. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Ali's father had only been in Canada for about a year, he said, becoming a Canadian citizen not long before his father's arrival.

"He was like, 'Yes! I can officially vote and cast my ballot now that I am a Canadian citizen,' and he was so happy to do so," said Hesso.

"The ethno-cultural community, he was one of the main people ... who supported newcomers."

Loved ones of Nour Ali look out over the water as crews searched for him on Lake Winnipeg Sunday. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Jennifer Chen, a trustee in the Winnipeg School Division, said she had been planning an upcoming community event with Ali.

"I cannot imagine that next time when the community meets, he won't be there," she said.

"It's a devastating loss for the whole community. Nour gave everything he had to help others. When people asked, he was always there with his warm heart and helping hands."

Coast guard, military help in search

Members of the Canadian military, Canadian Coast Guard, RCMP, fire and paramedics took part in the search and rescue operations.

At about 7:45 p.m. Saturday, the capsized boat was towed to the boat launch, where several RCMP vehicles from Selkirk and Powerview were parked.

Ali's friends and family stare out at Lake Winnipeg on Saturday evening. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

By dusk, most loved ones and searchers had left the boat ramp at the bottom of Yellow Brick Road, a gravel road that meets Lake Winnipeg, as the search wound down for the night.

Hesso was with that group. He was still holding out hope Sunday that a man he considers a brother would survive the ordeal, but he was bracing for the worst.

"There's not a day goes by without us talking about something," said Hesso.

"Nour was a great person and he did so much for the community in Winnipeg and Manitoba, and he advocated on behalf of so many people ... He's a great person."

Weather "certainly" a factor: RCMP

In an interview Sunday evening, RCMP Sgt. Bob Chabot, who is the service's marine coordinator in Manitoba, said the search had ended for the day around 5 p.m.

Chabot said crews conducted 57 lines of search in a grid around the precise location where the boat capsized and to the north.

A dive team will be called in to assist if the weather permits on Monday, he said.

For now, Chabot said searchers are using electronics that can be used for closer examination underwater.

RCMP Sgt. Bob Chabot says the search for the missing boater will continue on Monday, if weather conditions permit. (Travis Golby/CBC)

He does not know what caused the boat to go under, but weather was certainly a factor.

"There was some fairly high waves, there was some high winds, so we're looking at all those factors to determine what happened," he said.

"[Lake Winnipeg] they call it an inland ocean... the conditions can get very dangerous for boaters," he said.

Chabot did not have information about whether everyone on board the boat was wearing life jackets, but said at least one person who swam to shore was wearing a life-preservation vest.

"There's always hope. I really never try to lose hope," he said.

Some groups working with newcomers expressed condolences to the family and broader community on social media on Sunday.

The community of Bélair is located 91 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, in the Rural Municipality of Alexander.

With files from Bartley Kives and CBC/Radio-Canada's Ezra Belotte-Cousineau


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