A whale watching boat that sank off the coast of British Columbia Sunday afternoon killing five people onboard may have been overcome by a wave.
By Sunday evening, 21 people were rescued and one person was still missing from the boat that was carrying 27 passengers, Lt. Commander Desmond James of the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre said to the Associated Press. As of Monday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had taken over the search for the missing passenger.
The Leviathan II, a 65-foot vessel operated by Jamie's Whaling Station, sank about eight nautical miles from Tofino, near Vancouver Island, according to the AP.
The Ahousaht First Nation had four boats on the water when the ship shot up a flare after it went into distress. According to Alec Dick, the boat was overcome by a wave.
"They got swamped by a wave," Dick told Global News. "It just flipped their boat completely."
He added that he had never heard of nor had he ever seen anything like this happen before.
At least a dozen rescue boats were on the water as 21 "shocked" passengers were rescued from the waters.
"They were in absolute shock," Sheila Simpson told the AP. "You could see it in their eyes."
Simpson and her husband were on the dock as the rescue boats carrying the survivors came into port.
Fishing guide Lance Desilets described the scene.
"I saw a lot of personal belongings, a long diesel slick and the top 10 feet of the Leviathan II sticking out of the water," he said.
The five tourist who lost their lives were identified Monday as British nationals, according to foreign secretary Philip Hammond.
"It is with deep sadness that I can confirm five British nationals have lost their lives when the whale watching boat they were on sank off Western Canada on Sunday," Hammond said in a statement.
"My thoughts are with the family and friends of all those affected by this terrible accident," he added.
"Our entire team is heartbroken over this incident and our hearts go out to the families, friends and loved ones of everyone involved," Bray said.
"In the meantime, we want to extend our most sincere thank you to the first responders, rescue personnel, and everyone from Tofino and the local First Nations communities who assisted with the response efforts," he added.
Other local boaters also responded to aid rescue efforts. Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne thanked all who had offered support.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada will investigate the sinking.