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First Nations seek safety upgrade for B.C. harbour after pair of floatplane crashes

Second Tofino incident in less than three months sparks call to Transport Canada for improvements
Fishing boats on the fourth street dock in Tofino sway from side-to-side with the heavy rain and wind after the tsunami warning ends, on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Melissa Renwick

The council that advocates for 14 First Nations on Vancouver Island is demanding Transport Canada review the laws, regulations and policies governing harbour activity in Tofino, B.C., after a second float plane crash in less than three months.

The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council says in a written statement that the situation is too grave to wait for possible Transportation Safety Board recommendations related to float plane accidents on Monday and on July 26th.

In Monday’s crash, a float plane with five people aboard flipped and began to sink after clipping a water taxi while landing. The July crash involved a Cessna carrying five people that lost control on takeoff and overturned in shallow water.

All aboard in both events were rescued.

The safety board is investigating the July crash and gathering information to determine if the latest event warrants a more detailed probe.

Both happened in a busy section of Tofino’s harbour that the tribal council says is travelled every day by many Nuu-chah-nulth people, and the council says regulations must be upgraded because they are “not sufficient” to prevent repeated occurrences.

Fishboats, water taxis, float planes and other vessels use the harbour, and tribal council vice president Mariah Charleson says the airlines and Transport Canada must step up to ensure it remains safe for all users.

Tribal council president Judith Sayers was aboard the small plane that crashed in July and says she was trapped, upside-down, with her head underwater. She believes she would have drowned if her son, who was also a passenger, had not pulled her out of the wreckage.

“Now the lives of two of our (tribal council) employees were endangered in this second accident,” Sayers says in the statement. “We need changes now so no more lives are at risk.”

The tribal council statement praises the “selfless and heroic” actions of Ahousaht skipper Ken Brown, who responded to Monday’s crash and pulled most of those aboard to safety as the plane quickly filled with water.

“Understanding that the airlines and water taxis in Tofino are a vital service that connects many of our remote communities to essential services, we cannot always rely on the heroics of local First Nations to respond to such tragic events (because they) may not be on the scene at the right time,” the statement says.

The Transportation Safety Board website shows its investigation of the July event is now in the report phase but it is ranked as a Class 4 investigation, meaning the report will not contain findings or recommendations.

The board is still deciding on its next steps following Monday’s crash.

—The Canadian Press

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