With authorities still unsure of the fate of the two unaccounted for passengers, the actual search of the floating debris field has given way to a missing persons investigations. With reports that the two were seen in Hartley Bay during the evacuation of the Queen of the North it’s becoming a bit of mystery just what happened to them. It’s thought perhaps they caught a ride with a local fishing boat leaving Hartley Bay, but no contact has been made with them since the survivors were brought ashore and on to Prince Rupert. Giving many cause to worry that perhaps they were still aboard the vessel when it took its fateful drop to the bottom of the channel. There are not many answers to be had at the moment as to what may have happened to them and for now it will remain one of the unsolved mysteries of a rather incredible day on the North coat.
The story of the sinking of the Queen of the North now moves into the investigation into what happened and why early on Wednesday morning. With the Transportation Safety Board and Transport Canada now on scene, it’s expected that a long and detailed investigation will commence. Questions as to whether the vessel was off course and what happened as the ship made it’s way through BC’s inside passage on its way to a destination it would never reach.
For the moment the only thing we know for certain is that the Ferry crew reacted with incredible resolve to ensure that their passengers were quickly evacuated from the stricken ship. From all accounts we’ve read and listened to thus far, the situation while no doubt terrifying was handled with pure professionalism and seems to have worked for the most part like clockwork.
It was most fortuitous that a Canadian Coast Guard vessel was so close by at the exact time of the incident, it’s almost an unbelievable stroke of luck that the only major governmental resource in miles was within an hour of being on station and aiding in the rescue mission. With it’s fast responder vessel able to reach the scene in even less time.
We have also learned of the amazing response of the people of Hartley Bay, who showed no hesitation to take to their boats in order to speed to the rescue of 100 people in mortal peril. The small first nation’s community answered the call for assistance and opened their doors to the shivering and frightened travelers.
The Daily News put together a number of stories on today’s developments; we provide them in our Podunkicized format for those that may not have access to the local newsstands.
FERRY SINKS OFF HARTLEY BAY
Queen of the North goes down early Wednesday after leaving Prince Rupert with 101 passengers and crew aboard
By Patrick Witwicki
The Daily News
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Pages one and three
North Coast fisherman Daniel Danes of Hartley Bay is used to taking his boat out into unpleasant conditions – usually consisting of heavy rain and wind – but not after midnight, which is what transpired in the early hours of Wednesday morning when he heard The Queen of the North was in trouble.
The passenger ferry had a hit a rock just off of Gill Island en route to Port Hardy. The vessel had left Prince Rupert at 8 p. m. Tuesday evening.
By around 12:30 a.m., barely minutes after the first report of the accident had come through, Danes had donned his survival suit, and was ready to take his boat out to help with the rescue.
“I run the hatchery here,” he said,” and I have a pretty good speedboat, that can do about 90 horsepower. It was pretty dark and raining.”
When he reached the dock, other members of the Hartley Bay community were already preparing to head out as well, but Danes immediately grabbed a couple of the men to go with him, since he knew his boat would get there quicker.
“We were the first ones out there,” he said. “By the time we got out there, people were already in lifeboats.”
All 101 of the people aboard – 42 crew members and 59 passengers – were initially reported accounted form, although later reports suggested two people may still be missing.
The Coast Guard’s boat the Sir Wilfred Laurier reached the scene in 19 minutes, said Captain Leah Byrne.
“The first vessel on scene was a fishing boat,” she added, referring to Danes. Danes and another boat from Hartley Bay were first on the scene, and immediately offered assistance.
“My first concern was the young people, and the elders, he said. “I took eight people on my boat and we were on our way.”
Shortly after beginning the trip back to Hartley Bay, one of the survivors exclaimed that the B. C. Ferry was beginning to sink.
“A passenger looked back, look, she’s going down,” said Danes. “It went down pretty quick.”
Barely an hour after crashing, the Queen of the North was underwater.
David Hahn, B. C. Ferries’ president was initially convinced everyone survived the accident.
“Anytime you have a major incident and you have no one hurt or killed in this type of thing, you always think it’s a miracle,” he said. “And you (are) - thankful for the crew. They’ve done their ob once again.”
At the time the ship hit rock, many of the passengers and crew members were asleep. North Coast MLA Gary Coons complemented the crew on the hasty evacuation of the ship.
“We have to congratulate the Queen of the North on getting everyone off the boat in time,” said Coons reacting to initial reports that everyone was accounted for. “My biggest concern when I heard, was not only constituents, but my neighbours and friends.”
Danes was also thankful with how the rescue went, considering he too knew some of the passengers aboard.
“The passengers were complimenting the crew,” said Danes. “We were lucky with the weather. It wasn’t bad. I was quite surprised.”
Meanwhile, the villagers were quick to help the survivors.
“Other members of the community were getting ready with refreshments and blankets,” said Hartley Bay resident Chris Bolton. “Once (we) heard what had happened, that’s when everyone started moving to help.”
Danes said that the survivors were pleasantly surprised by the reception they received upon arriving in Hartley Bay.
“A lot of people were grateful we were close by,” he said. “They were surprised to see us out there to greet them.”
Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen, who changed his plans for the day upon learning of the accident, reacted to initial reports that everyone survived.
“It’s chilling to think about what could have been,” he said in a released statement. ”Today is a day to be together and be thankful no one was hurt.”
Patients with minor injuries were flown into Prince Rupert via helicopter at 8 a. m. Wednesday morning. Eleven patients in all were treated for various cuts, bruises and stress related to the incident, but no one was admitted to the hospital.
As for the other survivors, the Coast Guard was in the midst of transporting them back to Rupert at press time, with all passengers expected to arrive around 5 p. m.
Premier Gordon Campbell was expected to stop near Hartley Bay to survey the incident, before arriving in Prince Rupert with Hahn, also Wednesday afternoon.
“I can assure everyone that extensive reviews will take place with B. C. Ferries and federal regulators to find out what happened,” said Campbell in a released statement.
Campbell also went on to thank the community of Hartley Bay for their help in the rescue.
“I want to recognize the local residents of Hartley Bay and private vessels who came to the aid of the passengers,” he said.
NDP FERRY CRITIC CALLS FOR PROBE AFTER INCIDENT
The Daily News
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Pages one and three
The question of safety with B. C. Ferries will be at the forefront of discussions following Wednesday mornings sinking of the Queen of the North.
After the vessel got into trouble, the passengers and crew were ushered to safety in the nearby village of Hartley Bay, and the Coast Guard was also able to respond within 20 minutes.
“It is a credit to the crew of the vessel, and the safety procedures they have in place, that all passengers were able to be rescued in tremendously challenging conditions,” said B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell after initial reports said everyone was accounted for. He was expected in Prince Rupert later Wednesday afternoon.
The crew of the North acted quickly in getting everyone off the boat in time, considering the choppy conditions, including 75 kilometre winds. But already people are questioning what might have happened during the busy tourism season, either around Christmas or in the summer, when up to 700 passengers would have been aboard the vessel.
North Coast MLA Gary Coons, the opposition ferries critic, has been attacking the Liberal government about how the B. C. Ferries in the northern fleet needed replacing – and more quickly than by the proposed 2009, 2010 timeline.
“We’ve needed ferries on the North Coast for a number of years,” Coons said. “And the government’s been dragging its feet. We need a full fair public investigation.”
The Queen of the North was one of two vessels (along with the Queen of Prince Rupert) that handles the routes on the North Coast.
The Queen of the North carried out trips up and down the Inside Passage to Port Hardy, and from Rupert to Haida Gwaii. But the single compartment design – meaning the vessel could fill entirely with water if the hull was damaged in a collision – may have led to the Queen of the North submerging quickly, while newer designs in the B. C. Ferries fleet that have multiple compartments likely would have given rescuers more time to respond.
Bruce Wishart of Prince Rupert tourism is thankful that this incident happened during the off season, and that all 101 passengers and crew members on the ship reached safety.
He also hopes that this accelerates the process of addressing safety concerns within the northern fleet, as so many residents all along the coast depend on B. C. Ferries for transportation.
“The message is … we’re concerned about this as a highway system,” said Wishart. “We are close partners with B. C. Ferries, and we have a high regard of the crew. “What happens in the future... we will work with B. C. Ferries and the provincial Liberals to make sure it’s safe and reliable and work towards a permanent solution.