Fri, Mar 24, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Two people missing after Canadian ferry hits rock and sinks


In fishing and speed boats, the people of this small Indian village headed into the stormy waters off British Columbia's north coast to help rescue 101 passengers and crew from a large British Columbia ferry that hit a rock and sank.

By late on Wednesday night, 99 passengers and crew were accounted for, but BC Ferries was unable to locate two passengers, a man and woman. George Foisy of Terrace, British Columbia, said that his brother Gerald Foisy and Gerald's common-law wife, Shirley Rosette, remained unaccounted for.

Ferry officials insist that everyone got off the ship and have speculated the couple returned to Prince Rupert from Hartley Bay on their own, although the village is inaccessible except by air and boat. Ferry officials handed the matter over to police as a missing persons case.

David Hahn, the president of BC Ferries, called the orderly rescue from the ferry's lifeboats, and the fact that no one was seriously hurt during the early Wednesday morning incident, miraculous.

"Anytime you have a major incident and you have no one hurt or killed in this type of thing, I think you always think it's a miracle," Hahn said.

Canadian coast guard spokesman Dan Bate said the southbound Queen of the North struck a rock without warning at 12:26am off Gil Island in Wright Sound, about 32km south of Hartley Bay. The area is about 129km south of Prince Rupert and about 933km northwest of Seattle.

Passengers and crew aboard the 123m ship began boarding life rafts less than half an hour later, then were taken aboard local boats and the Canadian icebreaker Sir Wilfred Laurier with no reports of significant injury or other physical distress, Bate said.

Weather at the time was reported to be 72kph winds with choppy seas.

The ferry, part of the province's extensive marine transport service, had left Prince Rupert at 8pm for the overnight run to Port Hardy at the northern tip of Vancouver Island.

One passenger told Canadian Press she at first thought she was in the middle of a drill.

"And then when they said to go to the other side of the boat, we knew it was real," said Jill Lawrence. "But it was very calm. Everyone seemed very calm and the crew did an awesome job to get us off."

"We heard a crashing noise and the ship went to one side," passenger Lawrence Papineau said.

"Then it was a louder crash ... and then everybody realized what was happening and the sirens went off. Within an hour, the ship actually tilted to the side, leveled out and it sunk down to the sixth deck, came back up like the Titanic, dipped and then it went under," he added.

Some ferry passengers with minor injuries were flown by helicopter from Hartley Bay to Prince Rupert, said Hartley Bay resident Wally Bolton, who was helping the rescued at the cultural center. He said he was aware of one person with a head injury.

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