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Wave 'capsized Canada whale watching boat'

Published 27/10/2015

The Leviathan II after it capsized near Vancouver Island (Daniel Frank/Screengrab/PA)
The Leviathan II after it capsized near Vancouver Island (Daniel Frank/Screengrab/PA)

A wave capsized the whale watching boat that sank off western Canada, killing five Britons and leaving an Australian man missing, a survivor reportedly told a fisherman.

Government investigators have not yet commented on what caused the 20-metre (65ft) Leviathan II to capsize off Vancouver Island on Sunday afternoon with 27 people on board.

Fisherman Clarence Smith said he was reeling his lines for halibut when his friend saw a flare shoot in the sky.

They raced to the scene in their small boat, and saw people in life rafts, in the water, and on rocks. They first helped a man who was clinging to the side of the boat, taking eight minutes to get him on board. He was unresponsive, and tangled in a line.

Then they rescued two women who were clinging to each other, and finally got 10 people on the life raft onto their boat. Among those they picked up were a pregnant woman and a woman with a broken leg.

Mr Smith said: "The lady was saying that a wave just capsized them. That's why there weren't any communications on the radio, no mayday."

The boat capsized about eight nautical miles (14.7 kilometres) off Tofino, a popular destination for whale watchers.

A spokeswoman for the Vancouver Island Health Authority said late on Monday that four of the survivors remained in hospitals in British Columbia and were all in a stable condition.

Jamie Bray, the owner of Jamie's Whaling Station, the company operating the boat, said the Leviathan II sank in an area it sailed to every day.

He said he has had minimal contact with the crew and is co-operating with investigators to determine what caused the boat to flip over.

Mr Bray said: "This vessel has operated for 20 years with an absolutely perfect safety record. This is something just totally out of the blue.

"We just don't understand and we won't know the answers until the Transportation Safety Board finishes their investigations. We're all traumatised."

He said the passengers are not required to wear life jackets on larger ships like the Leviathan II.

Government investigators arrived on Monday afternoon in Tofino, a remote community of about 2,000 people at the very tip of a peninsula some 200 miles (320 kilometres) north-west of Victoria, the capital of British Columbia.

But Marc Andre Poisson, director of marine investigations for Canada's Transportation Safety Board, said they had not yet spoken to the crew and passengers.

Mr Poisson said it is too early to say what caused the boat to capsize or what the contributing factors might be.

He added that the vessel has been towed to a nearby island but remains mostly submerged.

"We're still at the early stages right now," he said, adding that the investigation could take months.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police sent an underwater recovery team to search for the missing man, with assistance from the coast guard and local search and rescue personnel.

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