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First Nations’ council calls for safety review of Tofino Harbour following 2 floatplane crashes

The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) is calling on Transport Canada to improve safety in Tofino Harbour in the aftermath of two recent floatplane crashes.

The harbour, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, serves the busy tourist town as well as nearby remote First Nations communities.

Floatplanes and water taxis bring members of Nuu-chah-nulth nations into town to buy groceries, get medical treatment, and access the rest of Vancouver Island; they also carry vital services, like nurses with COVID-19 vaccines, out of the harbour to remote communities.

At the same time, fishing boats and pleasure craft travel in and out of the harbour. 

Judith Sayers is a member and former chief of the Hupacasath First Nation, and current president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. (Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council)

Two recent floatplane crashes have the Tribal Council, which represents 14 First Nations on Vancouver Island, worried.

Neither crash was fatal—though NTC president Judith Sayers was in the first crash, in July, and says she would have drowned if her son Cole, also on the flight, had not acted quickly.

In a crash on Oct.18, passengers were rescued by Ken Brown, an Ahousaht man who also rescued 13 passengers when the whale watching boat MV Leviathan II capsized near Tofino in 2015, killing six.

“We want to make sure people are safe,” said Mariah Charleson, vice president of the NTC.

“If it wasn’t for the heroic efforts of our First Nations people who are, time and time again, first on the scene of these tragic accidents, [the most recent crash] could have been far, far worse.” 

The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council is calling on Transport Canada to  “review the laws, regulations and policies that regulate Tofino Harbour and make changes to ensure a safer harbour.”

It says it’s obvious the policies governing the harbour and its operation are not sufficient given two such serious incidents in such a short period of time. 

While crashes are investigated by the Transportation Safety Board and sometimes result in improvements, the NTC says the matter is too urgent to wait for those reports—which can take over a year to be released. 

Charleson says she’s not sure what the answer is to improve safety, but points out that the inner harbour of Victoria, B.C. has pylons and other measures directing traffic, while Tofino does not. She says it’s up to Transport Canada to find a way to improve the safety of what is a critical link for rural and remote communities. 

Ahousaht, on Flores Island, is one of B.C.’s largest coastal First Nation communities. People who live there travel to Tofino by boat or by plane to access groceries, hospital, and other services. (Chris Corday/CBC)

The mayor of Tofino, Dan Law, agrees. He says many of the people who fly into remote communities from Tofino are “vital to regional health and lives and health of people all up and down the coast.”

“We do have to make sure they can get to the communities and back safely.” 

While Law says the harbour is, in general, safe, the recent incidents speak to increased traffic of all kinds in the region: in the air, on the water, and on the roads. He says it’s a topic that needs to be addressed.

CBC News has reached out to Transport Canada for comment, but has yet to receive a response.


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