The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council says critical changes are needed to increase traffic safety in the Tofino harbour, particularly around float planes and water taxis.
The call stems from a recently released Transportation Safety Board of Canada report regarding an Oct. 18, 2021, incident where a float plane crashed into a water taxi near First Street Dock.
“Many Nuu-chah-nulth on the west coast rely on float planes and water taxis to get to their homes and NTC employees utilize these forms for transportation all the time to provide services to the west coast communities,” said NTC Vice-President Les Doiron. “We want the highest standards possible to ensure their safety.”
The Oct. 18 incident occurred around 4:30 p.m. when a float-equipped de Havilland DHC-2 MK I aircraft operated by Tofino Air and a water taxi known as the Rocky Pass collided near Tofino’s First Street dock, according to the TSB’s report. The TSB’s report suggests the aircraft was “substantially damaged,” though the pilot and all five passengers were able to escape with only minor injuries reported, adding one passenger of the water taxi also sustained minor injuries.
It explains the water taxi was about 300 metres from the dock waiting for a berth to open up.
“Shortly after, two water taxis at the dock made radio calls announcing their intentions to depart, and the operator of the Rocky Pass re-engaged the engines to continue his approach to the dock,” it reads. “At this time, the operator noticed people on the dock waving their arms and trying to warn him of something, which caused him to turn and look behind him through his starboard window. He then saw the aircraft on the water, approximately 15 m away, heading toward the vessel. The operator applied port helm to the vessel in an attempt to avoid a collision. However, within seconds the aircraft and the vessel collided.”
The NTC noted it was the second float plane crash in the harbour over a short period, adding that NTC president Judith Sayers was a passenger on a float plane that crashed in the harbour on July 26, 2021.
“Canada must change its legislation and policies so they have the authority to regulate speeds in harbours as the local authorities are not doing anything to address a large safety concern,” Sayers said through the NTC’s April 3 statement. “Or at the very least Canada must compel local authorities to implement speed reductions so that action is taken as necessary.”
The TSB’s report outlines high tourist and residential traffic around Tofino’s harbour, especially during the summer months.
Tofino has a permanent population of approximately 2000 people but is a popular tourist destination that receives many visitors in the summer months. In 2018, for example, an estimated 600 000 people visited Tofino, with an estimated peak that year of nearly 70 000 visitors in August. Activities on the water are a major draw for visitors to Tofino,” the report reads.
“The Tofino harbour also serves as a critical link for people living in remote communities along the west coast of Vancouver Island, including members of the Tla-o-qui-aht, Ahousaht, and Hesquiaht First Nations. Water taxis and air operators regularly transport residents from these communities into Tofino to buy groceries, get medical treatment, and access the rest of Vancouver Island. They also transport vital service workers (e.g. nurses, teachers, and specialists) to and from these communities.”
The TSB suggests designated landing areas for float planes, and vessel speed limits could decrease the chances of future incidents, adding that First Street dock “falls under the general responsibility of the District of Tofino.”
“If busy harbours that accommodate both vessel and aircraft traffic do not have designated aircraft landing areas, means for aircraft to signal their presence, or vessel speed limits, there is an increased risk of collision as a result of vessels and aircraft operating in close proximity at high speeds,” the report reads.
The NTC noted that the TSB had made the same recommendations around speed limits in the Tofino Harbour after the July 2021 crash, but no changes were implemented.
“If Transport Canada’s process for implementing safe speeds in harbours relies solely on local authorities recognizing that a risk exists and proactively initiating the process for implementing a restriction, there is a risk that restrictions will not be implemented and vessels will continue to operate at speeds that pose a risk of collision,” Sayers said.
The NTC is calling on the federal government to step in and prioritize public safety in busy harbours like Tofino’s.
“Historically Canada has a tendency to either disregard or procrastinate over important findings and recommendations from approved transportation safety boards, Canadian commissions, inquiries and organizations. This is unacceptable as lives are at risk by not acting on these findings. Why bother to have a TSB, commission or other body to make findings and recommendations if the Canadian government ignores them?,” reads the NTC’s April 3 statement.
“Being in a float plane accident is very traumatic, physically, emotionally and mentally, and preventing these kinds of accidents is possible if the federal government implements findings and recommendations from these two incidents.”
READ MORE: Four injured in water taxi crash near Tofino