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Fisherman saves four after collision between float plane, water taxi

Ken Brown was tied up at the Whiskey Dock in Tofino late Monday afternoon when he saw a collision between a float plane and a water taxi in the harbour. “They were both coming into the harbour,” said Brown.
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Ambulances waiting on shore to care for passengers rescued from Tofino Air float plane which was involved in a collision with a water taxi Monday in Tofino Harbour. KENNY BROWN

Ken Brown was tied up at the Whiskey Dock in Tofino late Monday afternoon when he saw a collision between a float plane and a water taxi in the harbour.

“They were both coming into the harbour,” said Brown. “The Rocky Pass water taxi was clipped by the Beaver plane from Tofino Air.”

The Ahousaht fisherman, who helped to save the lives of 11 passengers aboard the Leviathan II whale-watching boat on Oct. 25, 2015, said he wasn’t scared as he raced across the water to the sinking float plane to save four more souls.

“The propeller and the engine dove into the water. The wing clipped the side of my boat and ripped from the top of my cabin all the way down. I had to back my boat up and get out of the line of fire. I managed to get out of the way. It happened so fast, it was crazy.”

Then the back door opened on the starboard side and Brown saw a young boy and his father. He manoeuvred the back of his boat towards the propeller.

“Everyone was in shock. And everyone had to get in the water because the plane was sinking. I reached out with my hand and grabbed the young little guy and his father, then the same thing with two ladies,” said Brown.

“One lady didn’t want to jump in but I told her: ‘You have to jump in now. The plane is going down.’ I told her just come in the water and come towards my hand. She grabbed my hand and I kept reassuring her she was OK.”

The pilot helped the passengers onto Brown’s boat, made sure everyone was safe, then hopped aboard the water taxi as the plane was sinking.

Brown took the four passengers to the dock.

“I’ve saved 15 people in my life now,” said Brown. “I’m OK. But there’s still some heavy-heartedness in me. My mind is still thinking about everything that’s gone on.”

The deaths of six people aboard the Leviathan II never leaves him, said Brown. And this close call has brought it all back.

“I will live with that for the rest of my life. I’ll never stop thinking about it.”

Brown’s friends and family tell him he was in the right place at the right time.

“I don’t know why I’m graced with such … I can’t even explain it. My friends think I was put on Earth to save people,” he said.

The Transportation Safety Board is investigating the collision and gathering information to determine its next steps, said spokesman Dean Campbell.

The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre received a call at 4:39 p.m. Monday that a float plane had flipped after making contact with a boat. By the time the coast guard and an RCMP vessel arrived on the scene, Brown had taken everyone ashore.

The plane had been on a sightseeing tour.

Air Tofino issued a statement Tuesday thanking the community for its compassion and patience.

“It’s really a hard time for our team and our passengers,” said base manager Madison Riddoch, adding that the airline company would co-operate closely with the TSB.

“Crazy Ron,” owner of Tough City Sushi, said he heard a big bang and everyone went running about 400 metres down to the end of the road.

“There were tons of cops and ambulances. The water taxi was coming in and the plane came down and smacked into him and tore its wing off,” said Ron, who would not give his last name.

His wife, Johanna Vanderkley, had just seated a man on their veranda when the crash happened. He had wanted to have a drink while his family was on the sightseeing tour

The man came back Tuesday afternoon to tell her that his wife had a bit of a headache, but everyone else was fine, she said.

It’s the second incident involving a float plane flipping near Tofino in the last few months.

On July 23, a Cessna A185F float plane with four passengers, including Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council president Judith Sayers, flipped in the water near Tofino, forcing occupants to scramble out on a sandbar.

Sayers later said that when the plane flipped, she was left hanging upside-down inside the aircraft with her head underwater. She was pulled to safety by her son Cole.

No one was seriously injured in that incident.

ldickson@timescolonist.com