A BC RCMP dive team hopes to get back in the water on Saturday to continue searching for the capsized Leviathan II’s one remaining unaccounted-for passenger.
The Leviathan II sank near Plover Reefs on Oct. 25.
The BC Coroners Service has confirmed five of the 27 passengers onboard the 65-foot whale-watching vessel were killed in the tragedy.
Ucluelet RCMP detachment commander Sgt. Jeff Swann said the missing passenger is presumed dead due to survivors’ accounts of the tragedy.
“If there’s a boat accident and nobody saw or heard anything you would think, ‘Man I hope he’s alive, I hope he made it to a beach, I hope he got onto a log,’ but in this case we know he drowned,” Swann told the Westerly on Friday.
“There were family members and crewmembers that were holding him and he was frothing at the mouth unfortunately because he had swallowed too much water and he was unconscious.
“They couldn’t hold onto him. He was down under the water and they were trying to hold him up, two of them transferred hands trying to hold him up and he sunk right then and there…They were on the water for some time and he never surfaced so there’s unfortunately zero chance he’s alive.”
Swann drove one of the two vessels transporting the dive team to the search area and said they combed the ocean floor on Monday and Tuesday but the weather turned on Wednesday halting their efforts.
“The aircraft and helicopters can still be out there searching and you can still search the shorelines by vessel or on foot, and part of those processes are still continuing, but putting scuba divers in the water has been suspended for right now,” he said.
“The conditions were just too unsafe to put a diver in, you can’t see them when they pop up…The idea is you’re supposed to follow their bubbles around so we know where they are and in that kind of surge you can’t see any of the bubbles so you can’t see where they come up.”
He said the search area’s proximity to the rocks at Plover Reefs prevented him from steering his vessel close enough to the divers with its engine off.
“You can’t have props going when there’s divers nearby,” he said.
“You’ve got to keep your bow into the weather and obviously you can’t be shutting your boat off when you’re in seas like that; you have to pull them to a safer spot and in this case there’s nowhere safe to do that…They’re going to try to get back out on Saturday or Sunday if the weather is good.”
He said the dive team is committed to finding the body.
“As police officers, we understand how important it is for people to have that closure,” he said. “It’s for the family. The main thrust behind it to get closure for the family.”
He said the mood on his police vessel was “somber.”
“In a recovery mission that this is, we’ve got a grim task to do,” he said. “Somebody is going to be swimming down there and they’re going to come across a dead body but that’s their job and that’s what they’re trained to do.”
He said the team recovered items believed to be from the Leviathan II.
“The divers found an iPhone charger, they found ball caps, they found t-shirts, they found pieces from the missing vessel like a window and a big metal bar, all right where we’ve said it’s supposed to be,” he said.