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Coast Guard, Ahousaht rescue passengers after water taxi hits rocks

Significant injuries for three passengers and the driver; six people were on board

Four people were taken to hospital with serious injuries after a Tofino water taxi hit rocks in foggy conditions on Tuesday.

The vessel was headed to Flores Island and the Ahousaht First Nation when the crash occurred off Catface Mountain.

Paul Nixon, officer in charge of Tofino’s Canadian Coast Guard station, said the male driver of the taxi and three female passengers suffered “significant injuries,” including “multiple broken bones.” Another passenger was treated at the scene for cuts and bruises. A total of six people were on board.

“The injured were triaged on site, given first aid and transported to docks,” Nixon said. An ambulance took the injured from Tofino’s First Street dock to Tofino Hospital. They were later transported to Victoria General Hospital.

B.C. Emergency Health Services said two of the injured were in serious condition Tuesday afternoon, and the other two were in stable condition.

Nixon said the Ahousaht’s Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary boat was first on the scene at about 9:50 a.m., followed by the Coast Guard’s high-speed Zodiac and boats from the Ahousaht First Nation.

Flores Island is about 20 kilometres from Tofino and accessible only by air or water. Ahousaht has about 2,100 residents.

The water taxi’s impact with the rocks tore a large gash in the vessel and the taxi’s windshield had a large jagged hole in the glass on the driver’s side. The vessel, named Rocky Pass, was towed to Tofino at low speed, Nixon said.

“The taxi appeared to travelling at a rate of speed,” he said. He said the visibility was low due to foggy conditions — a fog advisory was issued on Tuesday morning by Environment Canada — but could not say if it played a role in the crash.

Ahousaht Chief Greg Louie said the driver of the boat was born and raised in Ahousaht and is “an experienced mariner.”

Another of the injured was an Ahousaht member living away from the First Nation, Louie said.

The other two victims in the crash were a mental-health counsellor and a cultural support worker, said Louie.

RCMP said the water taxi had been seized and an investigation was underway to determine what led to the collision.

Through investigation and interviews, it has been determined that visibility was poor due to the morning fog said Sgt. Chris Manseau.

Tofino RCMP, with support from the RCMP West Coast Marine Section, will be probing the circumstances that contributed to the collision.

Transport Canada, the Transportation Safety Board and Work Safe B.C. have also been notified of the incident, the Mounties said.

Nixon said the Ahousaht played “a significant role” at the scene.

“Having the local First Nations help out was phenomenal,” said Nixon, noting “vessels of opportunity” such as the Ahousaht 1, Big Baby and Ahousaht Raider provided needed support. “There were a lot of positives in this incident. It happened in the daylight hours, there wasn’t a lot of wind or wave action and there were support vessels close by.”

Louie said the Ahousaht have a history of being quick to respond to rescues — from recent float-plane crashes, to sightseeing vessels in distress, to hikers and kayakers in trouble. “This is the Ahousaht way,” said Louie.

“Our people don’t see colour, they don’t see weather. It doesn’t matter the time of day, when someone is in distress, our boats and our people go out.”

dkloster@timescolonist.com