October 28, 2015 - 11:30 AM
TOFINO - Passengers were crowded on the left side of the top deck of a whale-watching boat when it was struck by a wave from the right side, causing the vessel to capsize and send 27 people into the water off Vancouver Island, an investigator said.
Five British nationals were killed, and the search continued for a missing Australian man. Twenty-one people were rescued after the Leviathan II capsized Sunday afternoon.
Marc Andre Poisson, Director of Marine Investigations for Canada's Transportation Safety Board, on Tuesday released preliminary results of the investigation into the accident.
Poisson said that with most passengers on the left side of the boat, "this would have raised the centre of gravity, affecting the vessel's stability." When the wave approached from the right side, "we know that the vessel broached and then capsized."
He said investigators have interviewed the three crew members and some passengers. The investigation is expected to take months.
The British Columbia Coroners Service identified the five victims, two of whom were British nationals living in Canada. They are David Thomas, 50, and his 18-year-old son Stephen, from Swindon in southern England; Katie Taylor, 29, of Whistler, British Columbia; Nigel Francis Hooker, 63, of Southampton, England, and Jack Slater, 76, of Toronto.
In Britain, the Down Syndrome Association UK said in a statement that David Thomas was a "huge supporter" of the organization and "one of the driving forces behind the Swindon Down's Syndrome Group, where he was a trustee."
Stephen Thomas, who had Down Syndrome, "was a very talented young man and a gifted photographer," the association said in a statement.
David Thomas' wife, Julie, was rescued and is hospitalized with minor injuries.
Michele Slater Brown, of Milton, Ontario, called her father, Jack Slater, "larger than life, a charmer, handsome, entrepreneur, engineer in the navy ... and a lovely dad."
Coroner Matt Brown said a preliminary investigation suggests those who died were on the top part of the boat and that they weren't wearing life-jackets because they are not required in that type of vessel.
Investigators will review the weather, wreckage and the maintenance history of the 20-meter (65-feet) boat, Poisson said. They will try to recover the boat's electronics on Wednesday.
A senior employee of Jamie's Whaling Station, the company operating the boat, said the vessel sank so quickly the crew didn't have time to issue a mayday call. The crew shot flares from the water which attracted the attention of local aboriginal fishermen who rushed to help rescue people, said Corene Inouye, the company's director of operations.
Christy Clark, the province's premier, said she is proud of the way British Columbians came together to help.
"The Ahousaht First Nation, the people of Tofino, the people who know this coast so well, when there was a crisis, when there were lives at risk, people stepped up and stepped in and saved lives," Clark said.
The boat capsized about 9 miles (14 kilometres) off Tofino, a popular destination for whale watchers that is at the very tip of a peninsula some 200 miles (320 kilometres) northwest of Victoria, the capital of British Columbia.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Tuesday confirmed that an Australian man was missing. Australian Associated Press reported that the 27 year-old Sydney man's family said he was on the boat with his girlfriend and her family when it sank.
News from © The Associated Press, 2015