Man overboard alarm prompts massive search

Wheelbarrow of belongings left behind

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Members of Salt Spring’s Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue unit were called away from their weekly training session Thursday evening to assist in a search for a possible missing ferry passenger.

The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Victoria tasked the local unit to search the waters between Crofton and Vesuvius following an alert from the BC Ferries vessel Howe Sound Queen.

According to BC Ferries, the search was activated when crew on the Howe Sound Queen discovered a passenger’s luggage, loaded into a wheelbarrow, had been left behind from the sailing that arrived at Crofton around 5:30 p.m. Crew searched the vessel but found no one, and did not see the passenger when reviewing footage of the sailing’s unloading and voyage.

An RCMSAR crew headed by coxswain David Cassidy along with crew members Lochinvar Roome and Duncan Elsey was on scene by 6:23 p.m. and began to search the ferry route. They were later joined by Canadian Coast Guard vessels Ganges 1 and the Cape Naden from the Ganges station, RCMSAR 29 from Ladysmith, a Canadian Forces Cormorant helicopter and the Ladysmith RCMP Marine Unit. Coast Guard coordinated the search for several hours.

“Being involved in a large-scale search like this is not new to RCMSAR units as we train all year round with each other and other first responder agencies,” explained Unit 25 communications officer Mike Murphy.

The Howe Sound Queen performed its next round trip with all hands on look-out. The extensive search failed to locate anyone in the waters between Salt Spring and Crofton. 

Eventually, with further review of video footage, BC Ferries staff determined the passenger had entered a vehicle on the car deck at some point in the voyage.

All parties stood down just before 9 p.m. The ferry had already been operating 25 minutes late when the call went out and ended up running 50 minutes behind schedule.

RCMSAR 25 recently upgraded vital electronic components that were field-tested during Thursday’s search. The upgrades were made possible by community funding from the Salt Spring Foundation.

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