B.C. Ferries runs to and from Gabriola Island are on hold at the request of the RCMP as divers try to retrieve the body of a driver whose car is sitting on the bottom of Descanso Bay.
“We are running a water taxi,” said Deborah Marshall, spokeswoman for B.C. Ferries.
At about 3:45 a.m. Wednesday a car crashed through a metal fence, launched off a raised ramp onto a ferry docked at Gabriola Island terminal, raced across its deck and shot into the water and sank.
The car is submerged at a depth of about 35 metres, about 60 metres off the stern of the ferry MV Quinsam. It is not known whether the driver is still in the car or whether the body has floated away, police said.
In the meantime, B.C. Ferries has erected a temporary fence in the place of the one smashed Wednesday and an employee has been posted to the entrance of the ferry trestle.
Wednesday, 9 p.m. - Divers will descend into Descanso Bay today to try to recover the body of a driver who drove a car onto a ferry docked at Gabriola Island terminal early Wednesday, sped across its deck, shot into the water and sank.
The car is submerged at a depth of about 35 metres, about 60 metres off the stern of the ferry MV Quinsam.
Nanaimo RCMP Sgt. Sheryl Armstrong said police have determined at least one person, the driver, was in the car when it raced into the water off the Quinsam.
It is not known whether the driver is still in the car or whether the body has floated away, police said.
A search and rescue crew patrolled Gabriola’s shores Wednesday but did not locate a body.
“We don’t know who was in the car,” said B.C. Ferries president Mike Corrigan. “The vehicle is at the bottom of the ocean … so it’s pure speculation at this point.”
About 3:45 a.m. Wednesday, a car crashed through a metal barrier gate, raced toward a raised ramp, launched onto the ferry deck and drove straight into the water, B.C. Ferries said. The drama was caught on video.
“Video camera footage of the ferry terminal area was reviewed by investigators and a vehicle can be clearly seen crashing through the barrier and onto the ferry and then off into the water,” Armstrong said. The shape of the driver can be seen on the video, Armstrong said.
A B.C. Ferries employee heard the sound of the vehicle smashing through the gate but did not see it, B.C. Ferries said.
Gabriola RCMP, the Nanaimo Harbour Patrol, a coast guard hovercraft from Sea Island, and firefighters responded immediately. Victoria’s Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre got the call about 3:50 a.m. and rescue workers were on scene within minutes, said the centre’s Jeff Olsen. Divers searched for more than an hour and couldn’t locate the driver or possible passengers and declared it a “recovery” mission for a body or bodies.
If the incident turns out to be non-criminal, the case will be turned over to the B.C. Coroners Service for investigation, police said.
Gabriola, with a population of more than 4,000, is off the east side of Vancouver Island, about a 20-minute ferry trip to Nanaimo Harbour. Car ferry service between Gabriola Island and Nanaimo Harbour was halted for much of Wednesday; it resumed at 5:35 p.m. from the Gabriola side.
Wednesday’s incident is reminiscent of one May 20, 2011, when James Davies, 29, of the West Shore drove his white pickup off an upper ramp at Swartz Bay ferry terminal. Davies’ body was retrieved by coast guard divers and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
A B.C. Ferries investigation determined the corporation could not have done anything to stop the driver from intentionally plunging into the ocean with the exception of erecting so many barriers as to cripple the daily operation of vessels.
“Obviously you can put big cement walls in front of terminals and variegated gates but you’re not going to be able to operate a ferry terminal,” Corrigan said.
“In this situation in Descanso Bay we had a six-foot metal gate there that was closed that the vehicle ran through at a high rate of speed,” Corrigan said.
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