Members of a First Nations community are being credited with helping save the lives of several sightseers after a whale-watching boat sank Sunday afternoon near Tofino, B.C.
Boats from the Ahousaht First Nation were among the first on the scene and responded after seeing an emergency flare go up from the sinking boat.
“We had a couple of guys that were out doing a bit of fishing, and these guys saw this flare go up and they immediately responded,” Alec Dick with the Ahousaht First Nation told Global News. “They came across some people in the water.
“There was this boat with the nose, the bow, sticking out of the water. Some people on that boat made it into the life raft and the others were thrown into the water.”
By Monday morning, five people were confirmed dead with one person still missing. The fast rescue effort is being credited with saving the other 21 people who were on board.
“They were calling for help and needed more assistance with boats so our local boys went out,” said Dick. “They got swamped by a huge wave. It just flipped their boat completely. I’ve never seen, in my involvement with search and rescue, heard this happen before.”
Aboriginal councillor Tom Campbell was on the Tofino waterfront and saw as rescuers brought people ashore.
“Their looks tell the whole story,” he told the Canadian Press. “You can’t describe looks on people that are lost. They look totally lost – shocked and lost.”
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed Monday five British nationals died when the whale watching boat sunk.
WATCH ABOVE: Five dead and one missing after boat sinks off Tofino
The Transportation Safety Board identified the boat as the Leviathan II, a 20-metre vessel with the whale watching company Jamie’s Whaling Station.
Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau issued a statement Monday saying he was “shocked and saddened” by the marine accident but thanked those who helped in the rescue.
“I was shocked and saddened to hear of the sinking of a whale watching boat near the B.C. coast and the passengers aboard who have lost their lives in the incident. We thank all those, including our search and rescue officials, who responded swiftly with courage and professionalism.
*With files from The Canadian Press