Updated: Thu, 31 Jan 2013 09:57:42 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Court hears emergency calls from ferry that sank off B.C.



Court hears emergency calls from ferry that sank off B.C.

A dramatic radio exchange between the crew of a B.C. ferry that sank off the West Coast in 2006 and a marine radio operator was heard in court in Vancouver today.

The recording was played at the trial of Karl Lilgert, the officer in charge of the ship's bridge at the time of the sinking. Lilgert has pleaded not guilty to two counts of criminal negligence causing death.

Marine traffic radio operator Kim Bissell told the court she received a distress message at 12:22 a.m. PT the night the ship sank off Gil Island.

"Traffic. Traffic. We have run aground south of Sainty Point," said the first emergency call from the crew on the Queen of the North.

The ship's position was then reported, but the location given was wrong, the court heard on Wednesday morning.

"We require assistance … we are taking on water … we're aground. Our list is increasing. We need assistance immediately," the crew said a few minutes later.

Eleven minutes after the first call was received, the Prince Rupert coast guard station relayed a mayday distress signal on behalf of the stricken ship, calling for assistance from any vessels in the area.

Fishing boats rush to rescue

As fishing boats in the area and residents of nearby Hartley Bay scrambled to mount a rescue effort, the crew aboard the ferry confirmed the ship was going down.

"We are abandoning the ship at this time."

Then a few minutes later, the crew reported they and the passengers were off the ship.

"We are uh, we have abandoned the ship now. We have five life rafts, one rescue boat, and two life boats in the water …. We are taking a head count as we speak."

When asked to confirm if anyone was left onboard, the crew responded, "We are attempting to confirm that now."

A while later, the fishing vessel April Augusta reached the ferry and reported, "It looks like the bow is sticking out of the water now. I guess she'll be going down pretty quick here."

And then a few minutes later, the ferry crew reports, "Yeah, just to inform you Coast Guard Radio, the Queen of the North has gone under,"

As the fishing boats start carrying passengers back to Hartley Bay, there was significant confusion about how many people were where, but a head count was started as people reached the wharf.

A while later, the crew of the coast guard ship Sir Wilfred Laurier, which was about 20 minutes away, asked the crew of the sinking ferry, "Are you confident everybody is accounted for?"

The chief officer of the ferry, Richard St. Pierre responded "That's a negative."

Eventually the chief officer says he believes there were102 people onboard the ship, including passengers and crew, at the time of the crash, but the number of people who got off safely had yet to be confirmed.

In court on Wednesday radio operator Kim Bissell said she compiled lists of the passengers herself, combining information from Hartley Bay residents with numbers from the coast guard vessel, but despite checking again and again, she should not account for all the passengers.

It was later determined that there were only 101 passengers and crew onboard the ship that night.

But it would still take several days to confirm that while 99 passengers and crew were saved, two passengers — Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette — were never seen again, and were eventually presumed to have gone down with the ship.

Ship failed to make turn

The trial has already heard that Lilgert was on the bridge with quartermaster Karen Bricker when the ship failed to make a left turn in a body of water known as Wright Sound and hit Gil Island.

It was their first shift working alone together since they ended an intimate affair a couple of weeks earlier.

The ferry sailed in a straight line for more than 20 minutes without changing course or taking evasive actions to avoid Gil Island, the Crown has said.

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