The sailors on board sent a “Mayday” distress call at approximately 8:10 p.m. Monday night, after they lost their rudder, engine and sails in 80 kilometre winds and four metre seas, approximately 30 miles south of Haida Gwaii Islands, in Queen Charlotte Sound.
The call was received at Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Victoria (JRCC Victoria) and a Buffalo search and rescue airplane and a Cormorant helicopter from 19 Wing Comox were dispatched. A cruise ship, the Star Princess, in the area was also summoned to help, as were Canadian Coast Guard vessels Tanu and Cape Farewell.
The Buffalo aircraft arrived on scene first and dropped a two-way radio by parachute to reestablish communication with the sailors who had lost their radio shortly after sending the “Mayday”.
As the cruise ship maneuvered in an attempt to block some of the high waves, the Cormorant helicopter arrived to begin the rescue.
“We assessed the situation and determined it was very dangerous for the people on board,” said Captain Jean Leroux, aircraft commander of the Cormorant. “We tried to put a Search and Rescue Technician (SAR Tech) on the deck, but it was impossible due to the masts, loose cables and torn sails. We lowered the SAR Tech into the water to the aft of the boat and he swam to get on board.”
“The boat was going up and down, side to side quite a bit as I swam,” said SAR Tech, Sergeant Robin Richardson. The sailors were able to throw a guideline to Sgt Richardson and help him aboard.
Once on the boat, Sgt Richardson and Flight Engineer, Corporal Kent Campbell aboard the Cormorant worked together to hoist the men from the rolling ship approximately 55 feet into the hovering helicopter. Both men were flown to Port Hardy. As a precaution, they were transferred into the care of BC Ambulance.
Search and Rescue (SAR) incidents under the federal SAR mandate are defined as “all aircraft incidents and all marine incidents in waters under federal jurisdiction. With the exception of federally owned National Parks, the overall responsibility for land and inland water search and rescue rests with the provinces, territories and municipalities. The Canadian Forces may, however, provide assistance to land and inland water rescues when possible.