Nova Scotia

As families grieve, search continues for fishermen missing in Bay of Fundy

The search for five fishermen — and for clues about what happened to their missing scallop vessel in the Bay of Fundy — is now being conducted by air only.

RCMP have suspended ground search indefinitely, but a search by air is ongoing

The six men known to have been on board the Chief William Saulis. Top row, from left: Captain Charles Roberts, Aaron Cogswell, Dan Forbes. Bottom row, from left: Eugene Francis, Michael Drake and Leonard Gabriel. (Facebook/CBC)

The search for five fishermen — and for clues about what happened to their missing scallop vessel in the Bay of Fundy — is now continuing by air only.

What began on Tuesday as a search-and-rescue mission on the water, as well as by ground and air, turned into an RCMP recovery mission 36 hours later.

All efforts were suspended when a winter storm hit Nova Scotia on Thursday, and they resumed only briefly by helicopter the following day.

In an update on Saturday morning, the RCMP said the ground search has been suspended indefinitely because of unsafe conditions.

A Department of Lands and Forestry helicopter was in the air on Friday, but RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Joyce said Saturday's mission was being handled by RCMP air services.

A Lands and Forestry helicopter searched a 20-kilometre stretch of coastline from Hillsburn to Morden on Friday but made no recoveries. (Submitted by Nova Scotia RCMP)

On the day the Chief William Saulis sent out its emergency beacon, one body was recovered — now confirmed by his family to be that of Michael Drake. His sister, Raelene Carroll, told CBC News she expects he'll be returned home to Newfoundland on Sunday afternoon.

The rest of the crew — Aaron Cogswell, Leonard Gabriel, Dan Forbes, Eugene Francis and Charles Roberts, the vessel's captain — have still not been found.

Some debris, including the vessel's life-rafts, were recovered within the first 36 hours of the search, but nothing new was discovered on Friday.

The vessel's home base was Yarmouth, N.S., where grief counselling was being provided on Saturday for anyone touched by the tragedy.

The Chief William Saulis scallop fishing vessel is shown in November. (Katherine Bickford)

"Lost at sea is such a hard thing to say," Bertha Brannen, a grief recovery specialist, said in an interview before she was scheduled to meet with family members of some of the crew.

She said the grieving process is often prolonged when people never learn exactly what happened to their loved ones.

Reacting to the disappearance of the Chief William Saulis this week, some in the industry and in the province's fishing communities said something quick and catastrophic must have occurred to the ship.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada says the boat sank, though the cause remains unclear.

Lori Phillips said she's still hoping her son, 29-year-old Aaron Cogswell, will be returned to her. While she doesn't expect him to come home alive, she said she just wants something to prove his death so that she won't have to apply to the courts to declare him deceased.

In the meantime, she said she's stuck in a "surreal" state, knowing that he's gone, but sometimes imagining otherwise.

"Like the other morning I heard — I thought it was his car, but it drove right by my driveway ... reality hits, but then sometimes you're living in your dream world," Phillips said in an interview on Saturday.

In the wake of Cogswell's disappearance, Phillips said her community of Annapolis Valley First Nation has been inspired to decorate a Christmas tree outside its church. It will be decorated with ornaments in memory of her son and more than 50 other community members who have died over the years.

"Some way before my time, but they're all remembered," she said.

Brannen said it's not unusual for tragedies like the disappearance of the Chief William Saulis to spark memories of past losses, especially for fishing communities.

"We all know there's far too many memorials around our communities about people who have been lost at sea," she said.

"It resurrects old wounds, old stories, old losses."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this article said the air search had been suspended Saturday, as was indicated by Nova Scotia RCMP. The police force later corrected that information.
    Dec 19, 2020 1:38 PM AT

About the Author

Taryn Grant

Reporter

Taryn Grant is a Halifax-based reporter and web writer for CBC Nova Scotia. You can email her with tips and feedback at taryn.grant@cbc.ca

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