The search for three missing Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation fishermen whose vessel capsized near Tofino early Friday morning entered its fourth day on Monday.
Five men were on the tin boat when it reportedly sank around 3 a.m. Friday. Two were rescued and stated that three others were still missing. Members of the First Nation have been supporting each other at Tofino’s First Street Dock while they wait for news to come in.
“We’re hoping for some answers to exactly what happened. We’re hoping and praying that we’re still going to find some people within the area that are still survivors to come home to their families,” Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation member Elmer Frank told the Westerly at the dock.
“There’s a lot of mixed emotions. With any kind of event such as this one, you’re going to be confused. There’s a lot of confusion. Emotions are going to be high for the next couple of days and, I think, we just need to respect that as searchers and we also need to respect the families.”
Search and Rescue crews halted their efforts over the weekend, but Frank said at least 12 locally-owned vessels went out Monday morning as residents continue to search for the three missing men.
“The dedication that they’re showing is all about respect. Respect of those that are missing, respect for those that have unanswered questions,” he said. “They’re out there to show respect for each other as First Nations and community members.”
Sgt. Todd Pebernat of the Tofino RCMP said SAR stood down after an “exhaustive” two-day effort.
“They covered areas five and six times over. I think it just came to a point where there was nowhere else to search,” he said. “Now, West Coast Marine with the dive team are covering areas they couldn’t cover.”
He said West Coast Marine has an RCMP dive team and sonar equipment actively searching.
“They’re on the water right now, utilizing whatever tools they have, to try to locate the vessel and they’ll continue until they’re confident that they’ve exhausted every avenue that they could possibly search,” he said.
He added RCMP have met with the affected families.
“Obviously it’s a very difficult, emotional time for them, but we want to make sure they understand that we’re doing everything we can to exhaust the search,” he said.
RCMP have not released the identities of the missing men. Frank said all three are respected members of the Nation and the situation has many in shock.
“They’re well known fishermen in our community and you just never expect that these kind of things would happen. So, there’s a lot of shock in the community in terms of how we could end up at this place,” he said.
Frank said the West Coast’s support for the Tla-o-qui-aht during the search has been “overwhelming.”
“It certainly really demonstrates that we’re one strong community within our area,” he said. “We really are one community.”
Tofino mayor Josie Osborne said the mood at First Street Dock was quiet and somber Monday morning.
“Each day is a little bit different and, as news or no news come forward each day, there’s still a very strong sense of support, compassion and love and so much that’s being offered in terms of just physically being with family members and with community members,” she said.
“I don’t think we can underestimate just how important it is to come together and to be together as humans…Unfortunately, this is not the first time that we’ve been through this. I’ve learned so much about how important it is to physically be with people. It’s challenging. It’s difficult for each person. Everybody handles it a different way but the fact that we’re all here for each other is what’s really important at a time like this.”
She added Tofino and the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation have a strong connection.
“These are the times that really matter and we really know just how deep our friendship is,” she said. “I really want to extend a heartfelt thanks to all the community members and businesses and all the people who have been here and been so supportive…It means a lot.”