November 25, 2015 - 7:00 AM
VICTORIA - Dwayne Mazereeuw knew lives were at risk after a giant wave hit the Leviathan II and tossed him, his wife and 25 others into the chilling, rolling waters off the west coast of Vancouver Island.
"As soon as the boat went over, as soon as people started flying into the water, I knew we were in a bad situation," he said about the tragedy that claimed six lives near Tofino on Oct. 25.
"I knew it was very possible lives were going to be lost that day," he said from Calgary.
Mazereeuw, 36, said he and his wife, Elisa, 34, were on their first weekend getaway together since the births of their young children when an afternoon whale-watching trip turned deadly.
He said the couple survived the ordeal by clutching a life ring for anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour in the frigid waters before being pulled aboard a water taxi that came to their rescue from the nearby First Nation village of Ahousaht.
Mazereeuw said he went public with his survival ordeal after seeing a story about a fundraising effort to build a skate park for Ahousaht's at-risk youth. Mazereeuw said he builds skate parks for a living, and wants to help the village, which only has about two kilometres of paved road.
"I couldn't believe how perfect an opportunity it was to give back to the community," he said.
Mazereeuw said the whale watchers were viewing sea lions on the rocks near an area called Plover Reefs about 15 kilometres west of Tofino when the boat capsized.
"I remember looking over to the right side of the boat and seeing a fairly large wave coming but didn't think a whole lot of it," he said. "We were on a pretty big boat and would never have expected anything like that."
Mazereeuw said the wave tipped the boat and it wasn't until he saw people being flung overboard that he realized the danger of the situation.
"I managed to hang onto the boat for a while as it was going down, but I too was quickly in the water," he said. "It happened super quick. After that, I ended up underneath the boat."
Mazereeuw said he was able to swim to the surface and saw a man in the water hanging onto a life ring from the vessel.
"I had no idea where my wife was at the time," he said. "I heard my name being called. I think it was one of the crew members who was with my wife. She was able to swim over and latch onto the life ring with me."
Mazereeuw said he and his wife and three others clung to the life ring as waves crashed over their heads. He said the water was coated with oil and diesel from the capsized vessel.
Mazereeuw said the survivors saw a life raft from the boat, but the waves were too rough to allow them to get near.
He said the sight of a rescue flare fired in the near distance gave the survivors hope that help was on the way.
"After a bit, it didn't seem too long when we saw the first boat come," Mazereeuw said. "We were frozen solid, exhausted. They literally had to pull us out of the water."
He said the Ahousaht residents who launched a rescue effort likely saved numerous lives.
"It could have been a lot worse out there. They risked their lives to come out and save us. The waters weren't calm."
Mazereeuw said he and his wife have already personally thanked Francis and Michele Campbell, who arrived in their water taxi to pull eight survivors from the water.
Vancouver Island outreach worker Grant Shilling said the Get On Board project to build the skate park can use Mazereeuw's help and donations from others.
Five Britons died in the sinking: David Thomas, 50, and his 18 year-old son Stephen; Jack Slater, 76, a British national living in Toronto; Katie Taylor, a 29-year-old Briton living in Whistler, B.C., and 63-year-old Nigel Hooker of Southampton, England.
Surfers discovered the body of Australian tourist Raveshan Morgan Pillay, 27, last week off Vargas Island.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2015