Rescuers blanketed after boat accident near Tofino

By Denise Titian, March 30, 2017

 Tom Paul, Marsha Mack, Shakayla Thomas, Shelby Martin, Kaileigh Taylor, Ashley Mattersdorfer

Photos by Denise Titian

Ahousaht — 

The family of one of the survivors of a March 23 boat accident near Matsquiaht hosted a dinner to thank those involved in the rescue and to show their gratitude that the lives of their loved ones were spared.

On the night of March 23, Ahousaht members Thomas Paul and his wife Marsha Mack took their boat to Tofino for a late night pick-up of their daughter and three other young basketball players returning from a tournament in Kelowna.

They left Tofino with six people aboard the 18-foot boat heading toward Ahousaht when, at about 10 p.m. they struck rocks near Matsquiaht (formerly Kakawis), about a 10-minute boat ride from Tofino.

According to family members, phone calls for help started coming. An injured Marsha Mack made at least two cell phone calls but the battery was nearly dead.

Both calls went to family members in Ahousaht, who jumped into action, calling others to assist in the rescue.

Several boats left Ahousaht to assist and a call for help went to Opitsaht, which was the closest community to the accident scene. Tim Tom responded to the call.

Another call went to the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC), who dispatched a Canadian Coast Guard vessel to the scene.

Tom Paul said he was knocked out in the collision and when he came to he heard Marsha phoning for help. His daughter Shakayla made it off of the boat onto the rocks with the other girls, but she was injured, bleeding from a large cut on the top of her head.

Witnesses say the injured young woman tried to get back on the boat to get her parents to safety, but her friends held her back. Paul said he asked them to apply pressure to his daughter’s wound.

When Tim Tom arrived on the scene he took over caring for the young women until the Coast Guard arrived.

“The Tofino Lifeboat transported all six persons from the boat, one needing medical care, and transported them to Tofino,” said Dan Bate, A/Regional Director, Communications Fisheries and Oceans Canada Pacific Region / Canadian Coast Guard / Government of Canada.

All six rescued were evaluated at Tofino General Hospital, treated and released.

Families at Ahousaht quickly organized a community dinner to thank everyone involved in the rescue and, more importantly, to express gratitude for the safe return of their loved ones.

There was a brushing ceremony held earlier in the afternoon for anybody wishing to take part.

Tom, Marsha and their daughter Shakayla sat with their family at one table while other survivors sat in clusters at other tables with their families.

Kaileigh Taylor, Ashley Mattersdorfer and Shelby Martin survived the accident and joined the gathering with their families.

“This is about life,” said Eddie Frank. He said what happened March 23 was an accident and the people are very, very grateful that the skipper made sure his passengers were okay.

Shelby Martin was asked to stand with her Tla-o-qui-aht family while Frank explained who she is.

“Shelby is connected to Ahousaht through marriage,” he said, adding that she is a treasured young woman who comes from the Tla-o-qui-aht house of Nuukmis. He cautioned everyone to be careful in their travels.

Luke Swan stood with his sister Martha Taylor, who spearheaded the gathering. Martha’s daughter Kaileigh was involved in the accident. And this was not the first time Martha has gone through such a terrifying experience involving one of her children.

Martha lost her spouse in boating accident in the 1980s and then lost a son in a car accident in 1997. For her, it was especially important to show gratitude to the rescuers and to thank the Creator for the life of her daughter, Kaileigh.

Swan told the crowd that while their family is sorry the boat was damaged, it should be remembered that material things can be replaced.

“This is why it is important for us to acknowledge that they are all still here and we thank the Creator for sparing their lives,” he said, with his sister Martha by his side.

He also thanked the Martin family from Tla-o-qui-aht for coming to the dinner. He pointed out that their grandmothers were sisters, making the two families closely related.

The Swan family called forward witnesses as they gave a new name to Kaileigh. This is a cultural practise followed by some Nuu-chah-nulth families as a way of protecting family members, allowing them to move forward in life on a new, safer path and to not look back.

“Being on the water is our way of life and we don’t want you to be scared to go back out there,” Swan said. He reminded the survivors that their families are there for them every day, “and we love all of you,” he added.

“I want to thank each and every one of you,” said Martha Taylor, through her tears. “It’s been an emotional few days but I have nothing but gratitude,” she said, adding that there is no blame.

Lena Jumbo, Ahousaht’s most senior elder, told the crowd that she, too, thanks the Creator for their safe return. She praised the survivors for looking out for one another.

Fred Mattersdorfer stood with his sister Ashley as Eddy Frank spoke on his behalf. They told Tom Paul that they were grateful for his actions in ensuring the safety of his passenger. Ashley was also given a new name from her family.

Carol Thomas, aunt of Marsha Mack, noted that everyone comes from houses and each has their own set of teachings. For her and her family, it is an important teaching to show their gratitude in times like this. They blanketed several of the people who helped out that night, from the people that accepted Marsha’s phone call, to the rescuers who went out that night to help.

Tom Paul, standing with his family, thanked the people for showing their love and support. He thanked the people of Tla-o-qui-aht for answering the call to help them that night.

Everyone involved in the accident was taken to Tofino General Hospital to be checked over. Shakayla had the most visible wound, receiving several dozen stiches on her forehead and scalp. But other than that, she was well enough to stand with her parents and siblings and thank everyone that came to their aid.

Paul thanked everyone for helping out, saying he is very grateful that everyone is okay.