Investigators believe a piece of safety equipment failed to operate when a Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCM-SAR) craft capsized in the Skookumchuck Narrows June 3, killing two Coast residents who became the first ever casualties in the volunteer service's B.C. history.
After the 733 Zodiac Hurricane carrying 43-year-old Angela Nemeth and 51-year-old Beatrice Sorensen flipped in the turbulent waters, trapping them underneath, an emergency mechanism designed to right the craft was not deployed, said Raymond Mathew, a managing investigator with the Transportation Safety Board.
As of June 7, investigators in Richmond were still waiting to take delivery of the craft for inspection.
The vessel was equipped with a self-inflating balloon when it capsized in the receding currents Sunday, June 3, killing two of the four volunteers aboard it. The device, located on the boat's exterior near the outboard motors, was designed to expand by the pull of a cord —†but it didn't.
“We didn't see the handle [that activates the balloon] there, so I'm sure it snapped off,” Mathew said.
The tragedy struck during a time when currents leaving the Skookumchuck were near their strongest.
According to electronic tidal charts used by mariners in the region, the water draining through the Sechelt Rapids may have been moving as fast as 13.5 knots (25 km/h) when the Sunshine Coast RCMP received the 11:30 a.m. Mayday call.
Those charts estimated that the strongest outward currents would have occurred that day close to 10:20 a.m. Tidal tables linked to by BC Parks predicted that would take place 40 minutes earlier.
“We are gathering information,” said Mathew, who was on the Coast until June 4. “We're looking to see what the procedure is for maintenance, for inspection, what the requirements are.”
While answers have yet to emerge, it was certain from the beginning that Nemeth and Sorsensen would be sorely missed by those who knew them, describing the two as generous women who, even beyond their volunteer work, made the frequent habit of putting others before themselves.
“She was just a doting, devoted mother, her children were everything,” said Geraldine Taron, sister of Beatrice Sorensen. “She comes from a really big family. There's seven of us, seven girls, and we're very, very close.”
Sorensen's daughter turned 21 on Tuesday. Her son is 15.
Sorensen's family members were expected to begin arriving during the middle of the week to mourn the loss of a loved one Taron described as a funny and eccentric Catholic.
She was a relative newcomer with the Halfmoon Bay RCM-SAR and had taken on the commitment in addition to her work with the Sunshine Coast Community Services Society (SCCSS).
As SCCSS's director of finance, it was her job to ensure an organization that operated “often with very limited funds” would get its money's worth when creating programming for needy, abused or in-crisis Coast residents.
But as her sister sought to convey, it was always her children who came first.
“She was just always supportive and there. She would spend her last nickels on them, she would give her heart, her kidneys, whatever,” Taron said.
“There was nothing more important to her.”
Nemeth had also been one of the newer faces on the team, but as one of her fellow crew members, Drew McKee, said, “she loved everything to do with it.”
More than a crew member, Nemeth helped with the unit's fundraising activities and was taking advanced training with an eye towards one day qualifying as a skipper.
“She was gung-ho,” said McKee. “She was out there as much as she could be.”
A friend, Deanna Proach, said she got to know Nemeth through their weekly Toastmasters meetings. She described her as positive, passionate and strong, a woman who never let herself get pulled down by negativity, one whose goals were pursued with vigour.
“She was always upbeat and she always had a kind word to say. I felt like I could tell her almost anything and she would respond with a word of encouragement,” Proach said. “I want to let you know, Angie, that you have left a positive legacy here in this world and you will be missed greatly.”
An outpouring of sympathy followed news of the deaths and continued throughout the week.
The morning of June 4, Bob Morris, manager of radio station CKAY-FM, where Nemeth worked, took to the airwaves to say that news of Nemeth's death had devastated her colleagues.
“We offer our support and condolences to Angie's girls [two daughters, 21 and 19] and the rest of her family,” he said. “We're a very close family here at the radio station and we will remember Angie with love and respect.”
A memorial page started on Facebook continued to gather memories and condolences throughout the week, with commenters describing the women as selfless, spirited and heroic.
A funeral service will be held this Saturday, June 9, at 10 a.m. at Holy Family Church in West Sechelt for Sorensen. As Coast Reporter went to press Thursday there was no word yet on a service for Nemeth.
A memorial celebration of life will be held by RCM-SAR in the coming weeks.