Collision between seaplane and boat was B.C.’s third since 1999: TSB

Jun 12, 2024

The TSB’s database of incidents includes two collisions in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour and one in Tofino Harbour.

A seaplane crash involving a boat in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour on Saturday was the third in B.C. in the past 25 years — a list that includes one in Tofino, according to a database of investigations from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. An aircraft flipped after colliding with a water taxi in Tofino Harbour, trapping Nuu-Chah-nulth Tribal Council president Judith Sayers upside down in her seat. Within minutes, the seaplane “was inverted with just the floats above the surface of the water,” says a TSB report on the crash. Sayers’ son lifted her head out of the water before she escaped through a window. The plane’s five passengers and its pilot got out safely. All six, along with one passenger on the water taxi, suffered minor injuries.

Sayers said Monday that she followed news of the weekend collision in Vancouver. “It certainly is something that really disturbs me,” she said. “It’s pretty scary.”

The only other B.C.-based collision in the database involving boats and planes happened in 1999, when a boat carrying two tourists was struck by a float plane arriving in Vancouver from Victoria as it tried to land. The tourists were injured and one was hospitalized with broken ribs and a collapsed lung. No float plane passengers were injured. In that collision, the float plane pilot had received clearance to land from the control tower, which is located at the top of a high rise building at the foot of Granville Street. The single controller who was working at the time did not see the boat when scanning the area before clearing the plane for landing.

Saturday’s crash occurred in a similar part on the harbour and involved a Harbour Air seaplane that collided with a pleasure boat as it was taking off. Vancouver Fire Rescue Services said two people on the boat were hospitalized, but no further details on their condition were provided. Harbour Air said there were five passengers on board the plane that collided with the boat. All five passengers and the pilot were uninjured, the company said.

A spokesperson from the TSB said it is “too early to say what the causal and contributing factors are,” but that investigators were on scene Sunday and have begun interviewing witnesses.

Shortly before the collision, a tower controller called attention to a westbound pleasure boat approaching the northern end of the takeoff zone, according to an audio recording of communications with the pilot.

“Caution for the westbound boat … takeoff northwest at your discretion,” a controller can be heard saying.

The collision occurred in the waters between Canada Place and Stanley Park. The area, referred to as “Area Alpha,” is one of three takeoff and landing zones for seaplanes in Vancouver Harbour.

Though boaters are legally permitted to go within the takeoff and landing zone, port authorities ask boaters to keep clear because of the heightened risk, said Sean Baxter, acting director of marine operations at the Port of Vancouver.

“The most advisable course of action is to avoid this area altogether,” he said.

A buoy outside the plane terminal marks the southwest corner of Area Alpha, but there are no formal visual markers on the water, Baxter said. He said the area is clearly marked on navigation charts.

There are between 60,000 and 70,000 seaplane takeoffs and landings each year in Vancouver Harbour and another 25,000 to 30,000 aircraft enter the airspace, according to a 2019 article on Harbour Air’s website. Area Alpha is “absolutely” the busiest of the three zones, said Randy Hanna, founder of Nanaimo-based Pacific Seaplanes. Hanna, who has flown seaplanes in and out of Vancouver Harbour “thousands” of times, said when it comes to boat and other marine vessels — which include seaplanes until they take flight — collision regulations clearly state that “when something is on your right, you give way.”

Rules aim to keep Victoria Harbour safe

Victoria’s busy harbour — which is shared by touring vessels, tug boats, small ferries, MV Coho, float planes and more — has its own set of rules created by Transport Canada. Known as the Port of Victoria Traffic Scheme, the rules “help avoid collisions so you stay safe on the water,” Transport Canada says on its website. The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority pointed to the federal directions in a statement made following Saturday’s collision.

“GVHA provides this traffic scheme to all boating clients when they make a marina reservation,” the harbour authority said. “We also educate boating clients about the importance of following these safety regulations.”

Victoria Harbour is considered a water airport and boaters have to stay clear of seaplane runways — one in the Middle Harbour and one in the Outer Harbour.

“Upwards of 100 flights take off or land in the port per day,” Transport Canada said.

White strobe lights atop beacons at Shoal Point, Laurel Point, Berens Island and Pelly Island will flash whenever a seaplane is about to land or take off. “When you see the strobe lights, use extreme caution,” the federal agency says.

Paddlers can cross the runways in just two spots: the narrows from the Songhees to Laurel Point and in a straight line between Shoal Point and Berens Island. Otherwise, they have to keep to the shoreline. Power-driven vessels under 65 feet long, including sailboats, must use marked lanes when going through the Outer and Middle harbours; those 65 feet or longer can use runways. No sailing is allowed inside Shoal Point.

(Source: Times Colonist, Jeff Bell. Photo/Adrian Lam, Times Colonist)


Verified by ExactMetrics