Queen of the North: Mother and daughter's escape story

Trina Benedict and her six-year-old daughter were on the Queen of the North ferry when it ran aground in 2006. Listen to her harrowing story, which she shared for the first time with CBC Radio's The Current.

Trina Benedict has post-traumatic stress 7 years after escaping ferry with daughter, 6

The Queen of the North ferry ran aground and sank in March 2006, sending Trina Benedict and dozens of other passengers scrambling for safety. Two people were killed. (BC Ferries/Canadian Press)

Trina Benedict was sharing a bunk bed with her six-year-old daughter in their cabin on Deck 6 of the doomed Queen of the North when she woke up feeling unsettled. 

"I got out of bed, and that's when the first hit happened," she said. "And it was big."

Benedict was one of 101 passengers on the Queen of the North, the BC Ferries vessel that struck an island and sank off the coast of B.C. in March 2006. A jury has spent almost four months hearing evidence about the sinking of the ferry, with navigating officer Karl Lilgert on trial for criminal negligence causing the death of two passengers, Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette, whose bodies have never been found.

With the jury now sequestered, Benedict shared her story for the first time with CBC's Betsy Trumpener, host of the B.C. interior's morning show, Daybreak. Trumpener presented her documentary Still at Sea about Benedict's story on The Current with Anna-Maria Tremonti. 

Benedict says the sinking haunts her every day. Seven years later, she is still being treated for depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.

The ferry ride on the night of March 22, 2006, had gone well for Benedict until the collision. She and her daughter, who had just turned six, boarded the ferry in Prince Rupert, moving south to start a new life. She'd always had a fear of boats, but a friend convinced her that it was safe and she would enjoy it.

"We were so excited and happy," she said.

When the ferry ran aground, a table knocked Benedict down at the knees. She was hurt enough to need crutches and time in a wheelchair after the ordeal, but in the moment all she was concerned about was her daughter, who had done a "rag-doll flop" on the upper bunk.

'I was so scared'

She managed to get clothes and lifejackets on her daughter and herself, but then couldn't get the cabin door open on the leaning ship. 

Benedict, who later heard from a crew member who had to swim out of a cabin, eventually forced her way out. "I flung that door open, and I picked her [daughter] up and I ran," she said. "I was so scared and I just ran and I went up — up, up, up."

Benedict said the crew were wonderful, but just as scared as the passengers.

"They were banging on doors and knocking on doors and waking people up," she said. "There was people in their night gowns and bare feet."

The deck was cold and wet and people were panicking.

"My daughter, she had to walk in front of me and she was kind of slow and I had people shoving me from behind and I remember putting my arm up and saying: 'Look! She's only six!'"

After getting onto lifeboats, Benedict said she talked to kids to keep them calm, and thought about the animals on the car deck as the ferry sank.

"We could see the lights going under in the distance, and that was the Queen of the North. It's so eerie. Even to think about it I get chills down my spine."

To hear Benedict's full story, including audio of radio-channel voices of crews aboard the doomed ship and people from Hartley Bay, B.C., who sailed to the rescue, click the Still at Sea links.

With files from Betsy Trumpener