5 dead, 1 missing after whale tour boat sinks off British Columbia

(CNN) – Five people died after a whale watching tour boat carrying 27 people sank off the coast of Tofino, British Columbia, on Sunday, rescue coordinators said. One person was missing.

Twenty-one people have been rescued, said the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre.

Search and rescue efforts were wrapped up late Sunday.

Far from shore

The boat was a whale-watching vessel named the MV Leviathan II, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said.

A witness told CBC the boat sank far enough from shore that it could not be seen.

“You could see the smaller boats going back and forth to try and help bring people back to shore,” Rami Touffaha told CBC. “The waters weren’t choppy so I don’t see what could have caused the boat to sink, but you never know in these waters unfortunately,” he said.

Another tour operator, John Forde, was on a boat excursion with tourists, when he heard the news, CBC reported. He set course for the Leviathan II and arrived as the boat was nearly submerged.

“It was quite close to the rocks and you could still see part of the vessel above water,” he said.

‘A tragic day’

The Leviathan II is owned by Jamie’s Whaling Station & Adventure Centres, the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre said.

The boat is a 65-foot cruiser, Jamie’s said on its website. It has three viewing decks — one upper and one lower and one in the back of the boat. It seats 46 passengers comfortably, the website said.

Jamie’s also offers other boating outings for visitors who want to watch bears or bathe in hot springs.

The company expressed sorrow over the tragedy in a statement on its website.

“It has been a tragic day. Our entire team is heartbroken over this incident and our hearts go out to the families, friends and loved ones of everyone involved. We are doing everything we can to assist our passengers and staff through this difficult time,” Jamie Bray said.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada will investigate the sinking, it said.

In 1998, another whale-watching boat belonging to Jamie’s was involved in a fatal incident, the safety board said.

That year, a boat operator and a passenger aboard the boat “Ocean Thunder” were tossed overboard and drowned in turbulent waters during a whale watching trip, the board said.

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