Halfmoon Bay RCMSAR unit recognized for rescue

A rescue performed by Halfmoon Bay RCMSAR involving a lost boat and three victims, including one unwilling one, was recognized by the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) and RCMSAR as one of the top three missions of the year.

The three crewmembers involved in the effort – Trevor Chapman, Erin Heeney and Peter Forster – were presented with the JRCC Top 3 Mission Awards 2018 at a ceremony at the Seaside Centre in Sechelt, with other RCMSAR and SAR organizations in attendance. Missions from RCMSAR’s 33 rescue stations on the Pacific Coast were reviewed for the award.

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It was the complexity and “chaos of the event,” including uncertainty about how many people were in the water, and which boat the victims originated from, that made the rescue unusual and worthy of recognition, said RCMSAR CEO Pat Quealey. “All that highlights the strength of the training, the strength of the people we have in our organization and their ability to deal with challenging situations,” he told Coast Reporter after the ceremony.

The mission took place the evening of Sept. 4, 2017, when the three crew members received a call about voices hailing for help off 4 Mile Point in Sechelt Inlet. It was “a very hot day,” said Forster, who was acting coxswain.

Chapman said he remembered the moon. “It was a full moon and clear skies that night and the visibility was absolutely amazing.”

It took the crew less than five minutes to drive to the scene. “We thought we’d have to turn off the engines to hear the voices, but we didn’t,” said Forster. Another vessel of opportunity arrived at approximately the same time, with two RCMP officers on board. They pulled in one of the people in the water, while the Halfmoon Bay crew focused on the other two.

“It was mayhem,” said Forster, who said one of the two people closest to the vessel was uncooperative. “For all the training we do, we think people want to be saved and want to come to the boat and want to be pulled in. This person was pulling away,” he said, adding that there was a possibility that one of the people in the water was not sober.  

They were in the water because one woman, without a PFD, had jumped off the boat because she thought it was sinking and swam away from it. As she started drifting away, another woman, wearing a PFD, jumped off the boat to try to assist. Then the third person, a man wearing a PFD, jumped in after them.

Despite being in the water for up to 60 minutes before first responders arrived on scene, when approached by the RCMSAR vessel, the woman without a PFD evaded the RCMSAR crew by kicking off their boat and backstroking away. Forster said her behaviour and distress might also be explained by the shock of being in the water for so long.

The crew tossed a rescue line to her and, with the help of the man in the PFD, pulled her to the boat where Heeney and Forster performed a two-person lift to get her into the vessel. Following her retrieval the man was brought on board. “There was one incident where she was about 30 feet away, we saw her just go down, face first, the last was her head to go under. We thought we lost her,” said Forster.

The crewmembers coordinated with BC Emergency Services at the Porpoise Bay dock and then began looking for the boat, which they later found “stashed underneath some branches and some trees” and containing about nine inches of water.

Forster said the rescue “had a different impact,” because of the critical situation, and that “if it weren’t for all the training and the strong support of the station and this organization, things could have been so much different.”

Heeney thanked JRCC for recognizing their efforts. “I’d love to track down who initially made the 911 call,” she said. “People hanging out at their homes in Sandy Hook who heard the calls for help and didn’t ignore it.”

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