Couple rescued after boat capsizes

Port McNeill water taxi operator pulls a pair of boaters from the water after their boat capsized.

A pair of boaters stranded in the water when their boat capsized en route to Alert Bay were rescued and, after a brief medical checkup, taken on their way by a Port McNeill water taxi operator Friday night.

The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Victoria received a mayday call around 9 p.m. Friday from a boat that had capsized in Weynton Passage, a JRCC spokesman said.

“The boat had gone down with two aboard,” he said. “It didn’t sink, but went down and was left with its bow up, drifting, with two people in the water.”

JRRC dispatched the rescue vessel Cape Sutil from the Coast Guard base in Port Hardy and a Cormorant helicopter from 19 Wing Comox, but the incident was over before either arrived, thanks to the response of multiple vessels already nearby, including the BC Ferries’ Quadra Queen II.

James Willson of Silver King Ventures water taxi service, also a member of Port McNeill’s Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue Unit 50, received the page from JRRC. He immediately contacted as many other members of the unit as he could locate, but the RCM-SAR 50 inflatable rescue boat was not available for duty.

“Unit 50 is stood down right now, because there are not enough people around right now,” said Willson. “I tried calling the others to say I was on the water taxi, just as the Coast Guard called and said there was a man overboard.”

Willson immediately left alone in the water taxi Rainbow Chaser. Arriving on site a short time later, he teamed with two other rescue vessels to pull a man and a woman from Johnstone Strait, where they had spent about a half-hour.

“When I showed up, the Valerie and the Native Joy were there as well,” said Willson. “Between the three of us we had a lot of powerful sodium vapour lights, and I was able to see the capsized boat and two people in the water.

“I went in and scooped them out, then took them to Telegraph Cove.”

An EMT crew was waiting at Telegraph Cove to transport the pair to hospital, but after being treated for mild hypothermia and declining transport to Port McNeill, they re-boarded Rainbow Chaser and Willson carried them on to Alert Bay.

“They were going to a funeral there the next day,” he said. “I was heading past there anyway, I figured I would drop them off.”

The couple was reportedly en route from New Vancouver, a small Da’naxda’xw First Nation village on Harbledown Island, near the entrance to Knight Inlet. Willson said they were traveling in an Altech diesel boat.

“The guy figures that he hit a log,” said Willson. “At first he thought he just stripped a gear, and called a friend in Alert Bay for a tow. Then it started going down.”

The JRRC credited the prompt action of Willson and the other rescuers who quickly arrived at the scene.

“The ferry, Rainbow Chaser, Island Fury, Valerie, a whole bunch of boats responded,” said the spokesman. “It was all over pretty quickly.”