Five dead, one missing after whale-watching boat sinks off coast of Tofino, B.C.

The small town of Tofino, British Columbia is mourning the death of five people after a whale-watching boat sank on Sunday.

According to the BC Coroners Service, five people have died from the accident and 18 people were sent to the hospital. All five of the victims—four males and one female—were British nationals, ranging from ages 18 to 76. Three were visiting Tofino as tourists. While 21 people have been rescued, one remains missing.

Twenty-four passengers and three crew members were aboard the MV Leviathan II. The tourism company, Jamie’s Whaling Station, owned the 20-meter vessel. It was operated out of Tofino, a popular vacation destination on Vancouver Island.

At around 4 p.m. yesterday, the MV Leviathan II sent a mayday call and set off flares near Vargas Island, which is about 40 minutes north of Tofino. Following the call, water taxis from the nearby Ahousat First Nation quickly arrived at the scene to rescue survivors from the water. The Coast Guard boats and helicopters arrived shortly after, as well as another tourism company, The Whale Centre.

Rescuers arrived at the scene to find the boat flipped over and partially submerged. Locals lined the docks with blankets awaiting survivors.

Jamie’s Whaling Station experienced another fatal accident back in 1998, when one of their smaller vessels capsized and killed one operator and one of four passengers.

So far, the company and authorities have yet to announce the reason for Sunday’s accident, but onlookers say that while the weather conditions were normal, with some wind and light rain, the water around Vargas Island can be unpredictable.

The Leviathan II is the biggest whale-watching vessel in Tofino, with three decks that can accommodate up to 46 passengers. According to Jamie’s website, Sunday’s tour would have embarked from Tofino at 1:30 p.m.

On their website, owner Jamie Bray, wrote, “It has been a tragic day. Our entire team is heartbroken over this incident and our hearts go out to the families, friends and loved ones of everyone involved.

“We are doing everything we can to assist our passengers and staff through this difficult time. We are cooperating with investigations to determine exactly what happened.

“In the meantime, we want to extend our most sincere thank you to the first responders, rescue personnel, and everyone from Tofino and the local First Nation communities who assisted with the response efforts.”

The search for the missing person continues today.