Local boaters joined a search effort Friday for three missing mariners whose vessel capsized near Tofino around 3 a.m. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

Search for mariners who capsized near Tofino now missing persons case

“Our thoughts are with the loved ones of the missing.”

The search for three missing mariners whose vessel capsized near Tofino around 3 a.m. Friday has been reduced and the file has been handed over to local RCMP as a missing person’s case, according to Victoria’s Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

“After over 18 hours of extensive air, land and waterborne searching for three individuals reported missing after their vessel sank in the early morning off Duffin Cove in Tofino, on June 15th, JRCC Victoria has called a Search Reduction,” read a statement from the JRCC around 9:30 p.m. Friday.

“JRCC thanks the countless volunteers in kayaks and other small private vessels, and on the ground from the communities surrounding the search area, as well all our partner organizations, the CCG, RCM-SAR, Parks Canada, G-SAR, Emergency Management B.C., RCMP, Emergency Health Services, who assisted in the search. The case has been handed over to the RCMP as a missing person’s case. Our thoughts are with the loved ones of the missing.”

Tofino RCMP, Search and Rescue crews, 19 Wing Comox, the RCMP’s West Coast Marine Section and Underwater Recovery Team have been searching a roughly 41-square kilometre radius around Tofino after multiple 911 calls came in from West Coast residents who had heard calls for help.

Two people were located, one in the water and one who had swam ashore. Both stated three other people had been in the boat with them.

Westcoast Inland Search and Rescue Manager Garth Cameron said his team was called to the search around 3:30 a.m.

“It’s a hasty search where you get boats on the water instantly. Sooner the better. Put boots on the ground, sooner the better,” Cameron told the Westerly News. “It’s a shore search, it’s a ground search, it’s a bush search and it’s a hasty search.”

Cameron held an impromptu press conference with reporters at Tofino’s First Street Dock around 1 p.m. and said the search had been extensive.

“The surrounding islands have been searched, on the shore, in the sands, on the rocks, the crevices. It’s been a very busy morning,” he said. “You never lose hope. You never give up and you give 110 per cent of your effort all the time.”

He said the West Coast came together quickly with commercial operators joining search and rescue crews on the ocean.

“When tragedy does happen in this community, it has always come together,” he said. “It’s a huge snowball effect and the town always supports each other.”

He added the Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations responded immediately.

“When a call for help comes, regardless of the time, their response time is minutes. It’s a very close knit community here on the Coast,” he said. “I know, without a doubt and in my heart of hearts, that they responded within minutes and they had people on the water.”

Cameron, who has lived in Tofino for 36 years, said it is not uncommon for a vessel to be out at night and added that he knows the missing men.

“It’s a difficult day. But, I’m not the only one that has personal connections with the members that are missing,” he said.

Tofino mayor Josie Osborne remained hopeful when she spoke to the Westerly around noon Friday.

“There’s nothing that’s ever easy about this. The connection that we have as a coastal community to the ocean is one that is deep and, when things like this happen, sometimes they have very, very, tragic outcomes. We’re really hoping for the best and we’ll see what the day brings,” she said.

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