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Updated: Thu, 13 Feb 2014 05:00:00 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Miss Ally captain's mother pushes for personal tracking devices



Della Sears drove her son, Katlin Nickerson, and the four crew members of the Miss Ally to the wharf on the night of Feb. 12, 2013. That was the last time she saw them. CBC

Della Sears drove her son, Katlin Nickerson, and the four crew members of the Miss Ally to the wharf on the night of Feb. 12, 2013. That was the last time she saw them. CBC

Della Sears, the mother of a fishing captain who died with four of his crew mates when their boat capsized in rough seas and cold water off the coast of Nova Scotia, says it's time to promote a new type of personal tracking beacon for fishermen.

The Miss Ally ran into a storm on Feb. 17, 2013, five days after leaving a wharf on Cape Sable Island in southwestern Nova Scotia to fish for halibut. The boat capsized after being slammed by a wall of water nearly 20 metres high.

Despite an exhaustive search, the bodies of crew members Billy Jack Hatfield, Joel Hopkins, Katlin Nickerson, Steven Cole Nickerson and Tyson Townsend were never recovered.

Sears, whose son Katlin Nickerson was the captain of the Miss Ally, said she knows everything possible was done to bring her son and his crew home safely — but that knowledge is not enough to quell the pain in her heart and mind.

"It's still very hard for me, I want him to walk through that door," she said.

"I think about him every day. I think about the men that were with him and their families."

Sears wants fishermen to consider buying and wearing a personal beacon — a tracking device the size of a smartphone and a bit thicker.

It can be attached to clothing and emits a signal that bounces off a satellite and sends a message to the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax.

The device costs about $300 for a single unit.

Sears said not knowing what happened to her son's body makes the tragedy harder to swallow.

"Your mind goes places that you can't control, because you don't know where they are. I think that would help," she said about the device.

"Katlin would want us to try to do something to help people. I know PFDs and personal beacons wouldn't have saved him ,but maybe it would have helped me with my grieving process."

Friend fell overboard one month earlier

Sears said her son raised the issue of personal tracking beacons when his friend Mike Doucette fell overboard from a fishing vessel in January 2013.

Despite an intensive search from the air and on the water that went on for 15 hours in ideal search conditions, the 20-year-old lobster fisherman was never found.

"We were standing right there. He said, 'Momma, there's something people can do. Why can't they do something to help? I think that they should wear a personal beacon to find people,'" Sears said.

Just one month later, her son had disappeared at sea.

"I understand this more now, because when it hits you it's a much bigger thing," she said.

"It was only a month later and I was sitting at my kitchen table filling out a missing persons report about my own son."

'At least it's closure'

Charles Jacquard, who works near Pubnico hauling lobster, said he thinks every fisherman should have a personal tracking device.

"Right now they are recommending you wear one of those inflatable floating devices," he said.

"The floating device would be great, but this would be just as good. Cold weather, the floating device is not going to save your life. Keep you afloat so you can be picked up and this would be just as good."

Jacquard said the $300 cost doesn't bother him.

"What's $300 these days? A tank of gas," he said.

Other fishermen approached about using a tracking beacon seemed to be in favour.

"I think it's probably a good rig if the circumstances are right and it can be activated when it should be activated. It would probably help in saving some lives hopefully," said Carman Nickerson, a fisherman and tank shop worker.

"You might recover a body, if it works, if that's all you're going to get. At least it's closure for families."

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