The president of the Nuu’chan’nulth Tribal council is urging the federal minister of transportation to put speed restrictions in place to prevent future collisions between float planes and boats in Tofino’s Harbour.
On October 18, 2021, a Tofino Air floatplane carrying five passengers and a pilot struck a water taxi while landing at Tofino.
In less than three minutes the plane had overturned and only its floats remained visible on the water.
Three passengers on the plane received minor injuries, but all were able to get out safely and await rescue, and one passenger on the water taxi, Rocky Pass, was injured.
It was the second crash involving a float plane in Tofino Harbour in just three months.
NTC president Judith Sayers, who was injured in the previous crash in July of 2021, says the federal transport minister needs to designate Tofino harbour “as a Water Airport to ensure high standards are set and followed,” adding that Canadian Aviation Regulations allow the minister to do so in the public interest.
A Transportation Safety Board report into the October crash found the pilot and the vessel operator couldn’t see one another until it was too late.
About three months after the incident, the TSB sent a marine safety information letter to Transport Canada about the lack of speed limits for vessels in the Tofino harbour.
The letter explained that local authorities in Tofino were unaware of the Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations and the procedure for implementing speed restrictions.
“The ongoing investigation has identified that although this process exists, local authorities
may not be aware of it, as was the case in this occurrence,
and concerns related to vessel operation may therefore go unaddressed.”
The TSB says local authorities can ask the federal government to restrict the use of either pleasure craft or commercial vessels in Canadian waters.
The TSB also noted that a close quarters situation involving a float plane and a water taxi happened in Tofino Harbour in August of 2020.
In replying to the letter, the TSB says Transport Canada says it “does not plan to take further action to raise awareness about the VORR.”
“On 08 February 2022, the TSB issued Marine Safety Information Letter MSI 01/22 advising Transport Canada that there are no speed limits for vessels in the Tofino harbour
and that the local authorities in Tofino were unaware of the Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations (VORR).
Transport Canada responded to the TSB by reiterating that the local authority has the responsibility
to apply for vessel operations restrictions. Transport Canada does not plan to take further action to raise awareness about the VORR.”
The TSB concludes in its final report on the October 2021 collision:
“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.“
The Nuu’chan’nulth Tribal Council says public safety on float planes and in busy harbours is a priority and wants the federal government to act now before there are more accidents.
NTC vice-president Les Doiron says “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 or transportation all the time,” and they want the highest standards to ensure safety.