Nfld. & Labrador

Fishermen lost off St. Lawrence remembered as 'the finest kind of people'

The bodies of Edward Norman, 67; his son, Scott Norman, 35; and his nephew, Jody Norman, 42, were recovered Tuesday, while the search for family friend Isaac Kettle, believed to be in his early 30s, ended at 8:45 p.m. NT.

Bodies of Edward, Scott and Jody Norman recovered Tuesday

People in St. Lawrence are remembering three fishermen whose bodies were recovered, and a fourth who is still missing, who were well known in the community. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Family and friends of three fishermen whose bodies were recovered off the coast of St. Lawrence, and one still missing at sea, are remembering them as kind and hard-working people.

The bodies of Edward Norman, 67; his son, Scott Norman, 35; and his nephew, Jody Norman, 42, were recovered Tuesday.

The search for family friend Isaac Kettle, believed to be in his early 30s, ended at 8:45 p.m. NT, according to the coast guard. 

In a statement issued earlier on Wednesday the coast guard said, "We regret to report that, past that time, the coast guard believes there will no longer be any reasonable chance of survival for the fourth crew member."

The matter will be turned over to the RCMP as a missing persons investigation, as is protocol said coast guard Supt. Harvey Vardy Wednesday night. 

All four men went missing in the mouth of Placentia Bay, off the southeast coast of Newfoundland, after leaving from St. Lawrence to fish crab just after 12 a.m. Monday. 

When they were not back before 8 p.m. that evening, a search and rescue mission began and the Canadian Coast Guard was called. 

Shortly after 1 p.m. Wednesday, the coast guard said the plane involved in the search is going to St. John's for fuel, with a helicopter replacing it. Two coast guard vessels, another helicopter, and one local fisherman are out searching, and they plan to re-evaluate the continuation of the search around 4 p.m. 

They have covered an area of 650 nautical miles since the search began Monday night, and recovered the bodies of three of the four missing men throughout Tuesday morning.

'Finest kind of people'

Eric Reeves, a fisherman of 30 years, joined in the search for his friends.

"We know them all back through the years. When we're at the fishing gear, they were over every day, just checking and seeing if I needed anything, wanted anything or wanted a hand with anything," he said.

"They were the finest kind of people."

Eric Reeves says he's known the Normans for years. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Reeves said he knew something was wrong when the boat wasn't back Monday evening and helped look for them that night, with several other boats, a helicopter, and a plane.

The coast guard has said the three men recovered were not wearing life-jackets, although Reeves said the boat was well equipped, with two radios and survival suits, which shows how quickly the situation changed. 

"Something happened within seconds.… Whatever happened, happened in a pop."

Scott Norman, 35, died after the fishing vessel he was on with three other people — his father, cousin and friend — ran into trouble Monday near St. Lawrence. (Facebook/Scott Norman)

Around 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, he said, he found some items from the boat floating in the water.

"We found a coffee mug belong to the skipper's son and his name was wrote on it, and then we knew there was some tragedy happened," said Reeves.

"When you find something that you don't want to find, I'll tell ya, it's heartbreaking."

Reeves says it was heartbreaking when he found Scott Norman's mug floating in the water. (Marie Isabelle Rochon/Radio-Canada)

Reeves kept the mug, put it in a bag and brought it back to the man's wife, something he said was difficult to do.

"It's very sad for everybody, everywhere I go there's broken hearts.… Let's hope that they can stay strong."

'Top of the line'

John Norman, Edward's older brother, says they both fished for most of their lives, catching crab and cod and just about everything else in the water.

"We grew up in the fishing boats, same as most Newfoundland families," he said.

John said his brother was a carpenter as well as a fisherman, doing all his own work on his boat, and was known by many in St. Lawrence. 

"He was a pretty good fella."

John Norman says his brother Ed was a hard worker and the two grew up together in fishing boats. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

John said his nephew, Jody, took good care of his family and was happy to help anyone in need.

"Top of the line, good man, too," said John Norman.

"He was the type of fella, if I wanted something done, call him. Not only me, all his family.… If you called him, he'd call and get ya right away, see what you wanted done and help you out."

The body of Jody Norman, 42, was recovered Tuesday after the fishing vessel he was on with his uncle, cousin, and friend went missing near St. Lawrence on Monday. (Jody Norman/Facebook)

John said it's been difficult for his family, but they are hoping to find an appropriate way to remember the three men, despite provincial restrictions on funerals due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

He said the community rallies together in times of tragedy, and many people now won't be able to come together in the same way. 

"If you were allowed to get into this church here, that'd be full, and it'd be standing room."

Support for the families

St. Lawrence Mayor Paul Pike said the community is devastated, as the men are so well known. Two of them were part of the volunteer fire department.

"All of us together are trying our best to support the families of the four individuals," he told The St. John's Morning Show on Wednesday. "We are all praying that this fisherman will be back home today."

On Wednesday night emergency first responders held a tribute for the men by driving through the town, sirens and lights flashing with the gear of Scott Norman and Isaac Kettle on display.

"People certainly feel for the family and what they're going through, especially any time when there's young children involved," Pike said. There are six children among the three younger fishermen.

The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District is providing emergency support online to students and staff of St. Lawrence Academy.

The district said school staff have met with guidance services and educational psychologists, and have contacted families to let them know online support is available. There are also plans in the works to give people in the community a chance to share their memories and express condolences.

The support services will also be made available to students and staff of Holy Name of Mary Academy in Lawn, due to the close-knit nature of the communities, the district said.

Pike said the U.S. Memorial Health Centre has established counselling services for family members which will begin virtually on Thursday. He said the service will then open to the general public on Friday. 

Search continued through the night

Vardy said conditions were favourable for searching Wednesday, and there is no indication weather was a factor in what happened to the fishermen on Monday.

He noted the the 35-foot vessel Sarah Anne didn't have an emergency beacon that sends out a location signal if something happens, which is part of why the call to the coast guard came from the town instead of the boat.

While there has been talk of making such emergency beacons mandatory on all vessels in Canada to improve search and rescue response times, Brenda Greenslade of the N.L. Fish Harvesting Safety Association said the Sarah Anne wasn't required to have one because it was less than 15 gross tonnes and did not travel more than 25 nautical miles from shore.

The Transportation Safety Board said in an email Wednesday it is still gathering information on the sinking of the Sarah Anne and it is too early to determine if an investigation will be conducted.

Search efforts Tuesday focused on an area of ocean near St. Lawrence. (CBC )

'Resilient community'

Pike said the people of the town are strongly connected. 

"The resolve of these fishermen to bring their friends home to their families has been something that we look at as an act of kindness, and that brotherhood that exists between fishermen," he said. 

Like Norman, Pike said the community wants to come together to properly mourn, but are unsure of how to do so with the restrictions of COVID-19.

"For a lot of people, it's very frustrating. And a lot of people really don't know how to actually verbalize how they're feeling, cause it's such a devastating loss." 

St. Lawrence Mayor Paul Pike says the men are well known within the community of 1,200. Two of the men were part of the town's volunteer fire department. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

He said despite facing many tragedies over the years from accidents on the water and in the mines, dealing with it never gets easier.

"St. Lawrence is a very resilient community, and has faced a lot of adversity," he said. "But together, we're going to get through this."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Lukas Wall, The St. John's Morning Show, Anthony Germain and Patrick Butler