Woman found clinging to life ring, hours after jumping from ferry

A woman who jumped from a B.C. ferry was found clinging to a life ring after spending five hours in the cold waters of the Strait of Georgia.

The woman was lucky to have survived that many hours in the ocean, said Jason van der Valk, director of operations for Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue.

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“Five hours is a long time,” he said Tuesday.

Parks Canada warns that even in summer, Pacific Ocean water temperatures range from 7 C to 14 C, and says the “maximum survival time in water this cold is two to three hours.”

Van der Valk said he can’t say how the woman was able to survive. “Body makeup, size of individuals, they all play some variable in all of this.”

This was “just a really fortunate case,” he said. “She had somebody looking over her, that’s for sure.”

Search-and-rescue operations were launched about 5:45 p.m. Monday after the woman, who is in her 40s, was seen leaping off the Queen of Cowichan ferry, halfway through the voyage from Horseshoe Bay on the Lower Mainland to Departure Bay at Nanaimo.

Christopher Wood said he saw the woman take off clothing and jump from the vehicle deck into the water below.

“I pulled the fire alarm to announce to the ferry that someone had gone overboard,” Wood told CHEK News.

He then threw a life ring and an emergency beacon into the water to mark the approximate area where the woman went overboard.

The Queen of Cowichan and Queen of Oak Bay ferries launched rescue boats, and passengers moved to the upper deck to scan the waters.

Canadian Coast Guard vessels and a Cormorant helicopter arrived to help with the search, which became more difficult as night fell.

After five hours, the search was called off. A crew went to retrieve the life ring — and saw the woman floating inside.

“Search vessels had gone by the life ring several times and there was nobody there,” said Stuart Irving, an air controller at the Victoria Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

It appears the life ring drifted by her and she grabbed on, he said.

The woman was taken to the Sea Island hovercraft base near Vancouver International Airport and then to hospital by B.C. Ambulance paramedics. Irving said that there were questions about the woman’s mental state.

Wood is glad to know the ring he tossed saved the woman’s life.

“It made me happy just knowing she knew we cared and changed her mind and grabbed that life ring.”




Other survival tales

Many people have died after being exposed to B.C.’s cold ocean waters. Tales of those who didn’t make it vastly outnumber those who have survived hours in the ocean.

Saanich businessman Bob Lord was rescued after eight hours in the Strait of Georgia in July 1993. He was ill from sunstroke and threw up over the lower deck on the final ferry out of Tsawwassen one night. He slipped and fell overboard, then watched the ferry pull away.

He treaded water, counting off strokes as a slow-moving stream of tide flow carried him 30 kilometres. Lord was rescued off Orcas Island at 7:30 a.m. by an off-duty Washington state police officer.

He said later: “For one reason or another, God gave me a miracle.”

Two years ago, deckhand Kevin Strain of Malcolm Island, off Vancouver Island’s east coast, was tossed overboard when the boat he was in smashed into a rock about 2 a.m.

Strain spent two hours hanging on to floating jerry cans and a foam float. He was dragged through rapids and pulled through whirlpools. Hypothermia started setting in and his legs cramped.

He eventually dragged himself out of the water at Sonora Island, northeast of Campbell River.

— Times Colonist

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