The whale-watching boat that capsized off Vancouver Island and left five people dead was hit by a rogue wave so unexpectedly that no one was able to send a distress signal as the 65-foot MV Leviathan II sank with 27 people into the freezing waters. In addition to five deaths, one person is still missing.
As reported by Fox News on October 28, one of the survivors of Sunday’s tragedy told fisherman Clarence Smith that the MV Leviathan II was hit by a wave. “The lady was saying that a wave just capsized them. That’s why there weren’t any communications on the radio, no mayday.“
Fisherman Smith was with a friend fishing for halibut when a flare shoot in the sky alerted them that someone was in distress. When Smith’s small boat arrived at the scene, the passengers of the Leviathan were in life rafts, in the water, or on rocks. One of the men who Smith was able to help was a passenger who was clinging desperately to the Leviathan. He was unresponsive and tangled in a line and it took eight minutes to get him into the small fishing boat. Among the women that Smith and his friend were able to rescue was a woman with a broken leg. They were also able to rescue a pregnant woman.
Michelle Campbell, her husband Francis, and two hikers were on the second boat that arrived at the scene of the capsized whale-watching boat that was hit by the rogue wave. In an interview with CNN, Campbell described Sunday’s haunting event and the despair in people’s eyes as they were clinging to life.
“When I first looked at her eyes, they were open, she was looking up at me,” Campbell said about one woman who struggled to stay alive but who kept slipping into the freezing water and going under because the diesel fuel coming from the MV Leviathan II made her slippery. “She went under ’cause I couldn’t grab her.”
The woman was eventually saved, but Michelle and Francis Campbell recall seeing the victims for whom it was too late. “I just close my eyes, and I can see them in the water,” Michelle shared. “I can see just things you should never have to see.” And her husband Francis added, “I saw the deceased ones — the ones that drowned. A couple of them were about 20 feet away from me, and another one was 10 feet apart.”
According to the British Columbia Coroners Service, those who did not survive were all British nationals. “They’ve been identified as Katie Taylor, 29, Jack Slater, 76, Nigel Francis Hooker, 63, David Wyndham Thomas, 50, and his son, Stephen David Thomas, 18.”
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed on Tuesday that the man still missing is a 27-year-old family man from Sydney who was on the whale-watching trip with his girlfriend and her family. Her dad was among the dead.
The capsized whale-watching boat and reports of a rogue wave are under investigation by the Transportation Safety Board. A preliminary report by the TSB says that the sightseeing passengers on board the 65-foot MV Leviathan II had been crowded to one side on the top deck “just as a strong wave hit from the opposite side.”