WOODS HARBOUR, N.S. (Canadian OH&S News)
Five Maritime fishermen are missing and presumed dead after their ship capsized about 120 kilometres off the coast of Nova Scotia.
At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 19, the Halifax Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre (JRCC) made the call to reduce the full-scale search after scanning more than 18,000 square kilometres of water and turn over the investigation for all five crewmembers to the Nova Scotia RCMP as a missing persons case. Missing is Joel Hopkins, Cole and Katlin Nickerson, Billy Hatfield and Tyson Townsend.
“Any hope of survival has diminished significantly due to frigid water and poor weather conditions,” stated a news release from Joint Task Force (Atlantic), which is responsible for all search and rescue operations involving aircraft and marine emergencies in Eastern Canada.
Shortly before midnight on Sunday, Feb. 17, the emergency locator signal from the Miss Ally, a 45-foot-long fishing vessel registered out of Shelburne, N.S. and fishing out of Woods Harbour, N.S., was received by the search and rescue co-ordinator.
The centre scrambled two Canadian Coast Guard ships, two Royal Canadian Air Force planes and a helicopter, aircraft operated by provincial airlines and contracted by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as well as a U.S Coast Guard aircraft flying from Cape Cod, Mass.
The ship had been in contact with the rescue centre shortly before the crew made the decision to send out the locator beacon, Ryan confirmed, and it is believed that the weather played a factor in the incident.
Early Monday morning, the American craft “spotted what was believed to be the raft from the fishing vessel, but conditions at the time were very, very poor, with 10 metre seas, hurricane-force winds and almost zero visibility,” Ryan said. “They saw a raft but obviously the visibility wasn’t very good and they didn’t see any lights and there wasn’t any sign of the vessel or anything after that.”
The stormy weather hindered search efforts, Ryan said, noting the four- to six-metre seas and gusting wind conditions forced the Canadian helicopter to return to base during the night. At the beginning of the search, the U.S. Coast Guard spotted the vessel’s hull and dropped a marker, but due to the fast movement of the rough seas, nothing came of it.
Modeling used to determine duration of search and rescue efforts
“Survivability models are something the [JRCC] looks at as a rule of thumb, and many factors can impact this. If someone’s in an immersion suit, 24 hours is the model that’s normally used, but water temperature, the sea state, the air temperature, the winds and whatnot all play a factor in that. We’re well past that now; we’re into the 36 hours,” Ryan said on the morning of the 19th.
Since taking over the investigation on Tuesday evening, the RCMP set up a command post and community hall in Woods Harbour and has been meeting with and the families of the missing men.
“There’s two facets of our mission here and one of it is in assisting and liaising in the co-ordination in the efforts for recovery and the second facet to that is working to ensure that we provide proper support to the families and the community,” said Superintendant Sylvie Bourassa-Muise of the Nova Scotia RCMP, adding that there was no deadline set for the search.