Police sonar locates ‘object of interest’ as search for missing boaters continues

Eric Plummer, June 18, 2018

The Tofino RCMP are now managing the search for three men who have been missing since early Friday, when their boat capsized off of Tofino. Pictured is the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation community of Opitsaht, located directly north of Tofino. (Eric Plummer photo)

Tofino, BC — 

An “object of interest” has been discovered in the search for three men who went missing after a boat capsized near Tofino on Friday.

This latest discovery was reported by the Canadian Coast Guard on Monday afternoon, although it is yet to be confirmed if the object that was picked up by an RCMP sonar is the aluminum boat the men were in when they disappeared in the early morning hours on Friday.

“They are going to bring in another sonar unit with better resolution to investigate further,” said a communications advisor with the Canadian Coast Guard in an email to the Ha-Shilth-Sa. “I can’t confirm the location, as we don’t have the specific latitudes/longitudes yet.”

Three members of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation have been missing since early Friday, when 911 calls were made from people who heard yelling for help from Duffin Cove in Tofino. Half an hour after those first calls one person was rescued from the water at 3:30 a.m. by a boat south of Felice Island, which is located directly west of Tofino. By 4:20 a.m. another person was located who had swan to Tofino’s shore. Both were taken to the hospital in Tofino and later released. The two survivors are not residents in the area.

The incident prompted a massive search effort, involving two Canadian Coast Guard vessels and a helicopter, a cormorant helicopter from the Royal Canadian Air Force base in Comox, RCMP vessels as well as numerous boats from concerned locals.

The search area was initially defined to 41 square kilometres, then expanded to the larger channel west of Tofino, said Navy Lt. Melissa Kia of the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria.

“The currents being at about three to four knots in this area, it did go from Duffin Cove to encompass the entirety of Templar Channel,” she said, adding that some floating objects were found that could have been from the missing boat. “There’s multiple objects which we assume belonged to the vessel. That’s things like buoys, pieces of flotsam, lifejackets.”

The JRCC built a computer model to help inform the search based on the environment and conditions around Duffin Cove, as well as information provided by the two survivors.

“In this case it would have been what we believed the person to be wearing, where they went into the water, water temperature, the build of the people that we’re looking for,” said Kia. “And then we take that modelling, we get a number - usually a pretty accurate timing - we’ll take that timing and stretch it. We’ll stretch it much further than what the computer modelling gives us so that we can reasonably tell what the expectancy of life is.”

By 9 p.m. Friday the joint rescue effort appeared to be failing, leading the JRCC to call a “search reduction” and turn the matter over to the RCMP to manage as a missing persons case.

“It’s never an easy decision to call a search reduction and certainly not something that’s taken lightly,” said Kia. “The JRCC and all of our partner agencies never like to call a search reduction on what we call ‘an unresolved case’. We really threw a lot of assets at this.”

As the Tla-o-qui-aht and its nearby Nuu-chah-nulth communities anxiously await any information about the missing men, the First Nation has asked that any information related to the search be directed to Connor Paonne at 250-725-2593 or execassist@tla-o-qui-aht.org.

“We also ask that community and family members are given space during this difficult time,” stated the First Nation in a news release.