Fishermen and coast guard crews rushed to rescue 101 people aboard a ferry sinking in rough weather near Vancouver Island early Wednesday. Authorities said all escaped with only minor injuries.
The 409-foot Queen of the North hit a rock off the Queen Charlotte Islands, about 85 miles south of this mainland town near the southern tip of Alaska, around 12:30 a.m.
“From what we hear, it took about an hour for the ship to sink,” said rescue agency spokeswoman Capt. Leah Byrne.
Residents of the nearby Indian reservation village of Hartley Bay, in fishing vessels and speedboats, joined rescue crews in a Canadian icebreaker in pulling the ferry’s passengers and crew out of life rafts.
“Most of the guys went out and got their boats running right away and they took people in by groups,” said Shelby Robinson, a 13-year-old resident of the village of about 200 residents.
Coast guard spokeswoman Lara Sloan said officials continued to search nearby waters in case some passengers were still missing, but said, “Everything we have heard is that all the passengers are accounted for.”
The ferry, built in 1969 and refitted in 2001, can carry up to 700 people and 115 vehicles and operates year-round on a 280-mile route between Prince Rupert and Port Hardy at the northern end of Vancouver Island.
There was no indication of problems before the ferry crew radioed an emergency call for help as 45 mph wind created choppy seas.
Some crew members asleep
Some of the crew members reported they were asleep when the accident occurred, said Nicole Robinson, a receptionist at a nursing station in Hartley Bay.
“They heard a loud bang, like it grinded a bit, and they said the cabin started filling with water,” she said.
She said many of those who arrived at the community center were “stunned” and a few were treated for minor injuries.
“The community all got together with blankets. Everybody’s pretty cold, but they’re all down at a community hall,” she said.
Representatives of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada were to arrive Wednesday to investigate.
The president of B.C. Ferries, David Hahn, said he was thankful for the crew members who did their jobs after the accident.
“It’s unfortunate to lose the ship, but if that’s the cost of having nobody really hurt or killed, then fine, I think we’ll live with that,” Hahn added.