No injuries resulted after a Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft collided with a sailboat in Ganges Harbour Monday night.
The hovercraft Siyay had been tasked at 5:45 p.m. with transporting advanced life support paramedics to Ganges Harbour to pick up and transfer a patient from Lady Minto Hospital to Vancouver. The transfer was deemed a high priority one, the BC Emergency Health Services confirmed, yet an air ambulance could not be dispatched due to “weather trending downward and daylight failing.”
As the Siyay entered the harbour at eight knots it made its way around the area where a number of sailboats normally anchor.
“Unfortunately one unlit sailboat was anchored outside of the common anchorage area and was not picked up on the Siyay’s radar,” a statement from the Canadian Coast Guard reads.
The hovercraft captain performed an emergency maneuver to avoid hitting the sailboat, yet the starboard side of the hovercraft hit the bowsprit of the sailboat. A bowsprit, the Coast Guard explained, is a spar extending from the bow of a sailboat.
No one was aboard the sailboat at the time of the collision, and no one on the hovercraft was hurt. The hovercraft’s crew consists of a captain, first officer and five rescue divers, as well as the ambulance personnel on board Monday.
However, a man who lives in a nearby vessel told the Driftwood that the struck vessel did have a light on its bow.
Son Mandolin said he and his girlfriend are still in shock after coming close to being struck by the hovercraft.
“They missed me and my girlfriend by about 10 feet,” he said.
Mandolin said the hovercraft was caught in a web of nearby boats after “nailing” the sailboat.
“It was like bumper boats, to be honest.”
Mandolin was interviewed by Coast Guard investigators on Wednesday and provided video footage taken after the collision to them.
He said it wasn’t surprising that the crew did not see the sailboat’s light because of the spray resulting from the speed of the hovercraft, which he estimates at between 10 and 20 knots.
Ganges resident Bill Earle said he witnessed ambulance attendants transfer an older man from an ambulance onto the hovercraft with help from Coast Guard personnel at about 8:30 p.m. while out walking his dog.
The crew was able to transport the patient to hospital in Vancouver via a Coast Guard base in Richmond. The patient was stable during the trip, the ambulance service confirmed.
Coast Guard officials are trying to locate the owner of the sailboat. They are also assessing damage to the hovercraft but are still ready to respond to any search and rescue incidents that come up from the vessel’s station.
While helicopters are used in cases of urgent medevac situations, BC Emergency Health Services stated that marine ambulances, hovercraft and land ambulance on ferries are other options.
The Coast Guard stated that they are involved on a regular basis with medevacs in situations with challenging terrain or in cases where responding by water is faster or easier.
The 28.5-metre-long, 12-metre-wide Siyay is one of four hovercraft the Coast Guard operates across Canada. Able to travel at speeds up to 50 knots, hovercraft can also travel over “land, water, mudflats, shallow water, ice and other surfaces,” allowing them to access areas difficult to reach by land.
“Coast Guard’s hovercraft are often used to reach people in distress on beaches and in areas where our land-based first response partners cannot get to quickly or easily,” the Coast Guard stated.
Hovercraft crews respond to around 300 search and rescue calls per year.