‘We still think about what happened every day’: survivor of Tofino boat tragedy reflects back
As the year draws to a close, Global BC is looking back at some of the top stories that helped shape our province in 2015. We are talking to the people behind these stories and looking at the impact these stories had on British Columbians. Today, we are following up with Dwayne Mazereeuw, one of the survivors of the fatal whale-watching accident near Tofino.
It is a very different Christmas for Dwayne Mazereeuw and his wife this year.
“Around this time, we’ve been thinking a lot about those who were less fortunate than us and the family and friends who lost their loved ones in that accident,” says Mazereeuw.
The 36-year-old Calgary man says he is not a strong swimmer, but on Oct.25, he had to find anything to hang on to in the frigid waters of the Pacific to save his life.
A giant wave hit the boat that he and his wife were whale watching in near Plover Reefs, west of Tofino.
It tossed the Mazereeuws and 25 other passengers out of Leviathan II and into the water, claiming six lives in the process.
Reflecting on what happened that day two months after the accident, Mazereeuw says it still affects their lives.
“We still think about what happened every day,” he says.
The Mazereeuws were lucky to escape with their lives.
When the boat went down, Dwayne was still hanging on and went underwater with the boat.
When he resurfaced, he found a life ring floating not far from the vessel. His wife was also able to swim over and latch onto the ring. They saw an inflated life raft in the distance, but the waves were too rough to allow them to get near. Fortunately, a few rescue boats from a neighbouring First Nation arrived shortly after a flare was fired by someone from the boat.
The couple and the rest of the survivors had to be pulled out of the water into the boats, frozen and exhausted.
The members of the Ahousaht First Nation who came to their rescue were hailed heros in the aftermath of the tragedy.
WATCH: Rescuers recount pulling survivors of the whale-watching tragedy out of the water
The Transportation Safety Board has launched an investigation into the incident. Investigators say they believe sightseeing passengers crowded the top deck of the vessel when it was hit by a wave, sending 27 people into the water.
Mazereeuw says they have heard bits and pieces about the investigation, but have now been told it could take up to a year and a half to fully know what happened that day.
Five people, all from the United Kingdom, died in the accident. The body of a 27-year-old Australian tourist was found in November.
Mazereeuw says since they went public with their story, a few of the other survivors have reached out to them. The couple has also been keeping in touch with the rescuers who pulled them out from the frigid waters.
Mazereeuw designs skateboarding parks for a living and plans to return to Ahousaht in the spring to help build a skateboard park for local youth.
He is donating his skills, time and money to help the project as a way to show his gratitude.
“The opportunity just fell into our laps,” he says. “It just seemed like a perfect way to say thank you. There were a lot of community members who were involved in the rescue.”
An online crowdfunding campaign for the skateboard park raised just over $23,000.
The work on the park design will begin in early January, with construction expected to kick off in April.
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