Ahousaht celebrates, blankets heroes of Leviathan II

By Denise Titian, October 30, 2015

Recuers of the survivors of the whale watching tour boat Leviathan II were blanketed and celebrated by their community Oct. 29.

Photos  by Denise Titian

Ahousaht — 

Five days after the tragic Leviathan II whale watching tour boat accident, the community of Ahousaht gathered to celebrate the bravery of five homegrown heroes.

Special guests to an Oct. 29 potluck dinner in Ahousaht’s T-Bird Hall included YuułuʔiłʔatḥNation Tyee Wilson Jack and his wife Jacqueline, who is the mother of Ken Brown. Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council President Deb Foxcroft and Executive Director Florence Wylie also attended the potluck dinner.

The crowd paid their respects to the six lost souls of the Leviathan II accident with a moment of silence before the first responders to the accident were introduced.

Husband and wife, Frenchie (Francis) and Michelle Campbell were among the first to respond to the accident, taking survivors aboard their boat. They stood before the curtain with fellow rescuers Peter Frank Jr., Ken Brown and Smitty (Clarence) Smith where they were introduced and thanked for their heroic efforts in saving the lives of 21 people Oct. 25, that tragic Sunday afternoon.

Ahousaht leaders blanketed their heroes along with the two Ha’wiih (hereditary chiefs) that were at the dinner, John Keitlah Jr. and Rocky Titian.

The NTC executive also blanketed the rescuers. Joe Tom spoke on behalf of NTC President Deb Foxcroft, telling them that the blankets signify strength and encouragement from all Nuu-chah-nulth people.

“We ask that you carry yourselves forward in a strong and positive way,” Tom told them. “We all will walk with you from this day forward; we will pray with you and our hearts are with you,” said Tom.

The NTC executive presented a $2,000 cheque to Ahousaht. “This is on behalf of all Nuu-chah-nulth nations who continue to support you, pray for you and encourage you,” said Foxcroft. The donation was to assist in the cost of the community dinner.

Elected Chief Greg Louie told his people how proud he is of them. He said the community has been inundated with reporters all week.

“Every reporter asks why we do that; I tell them because that’s just the way we are,” said Louie.

Ahousaht Emergency Coordinator Alec Dick also praised the people of Ahousaht; not only the ones first on the accident scene but also the ones that continue the search for the missing passenger both on the water and on the shore.

There are people who bake bread and prepare meals to feed the searchers and guests to the community. And then there are the people fundraising to pay for fuel for the searchers’ boats.

Finally, there are the people providing cultural and emotional support to those that were traumatized by the events of Oct. 25.

“We want to thank you people for always supporting them and helping them get through what they’re going through,” said Dick. “We have to make sure that they’re looked after and we say kleco, kleco to each and every one of you that came over to support them,” he added.

The rescuers were praised for their patience as they granted interviews with dozens of reporters, reliving the experience over and over.

The people were proud of them and gave them a standing ovation followed by a traditional song of gratitude.

Meanwhile, in Tofino, there are two makeshift memorials on First Street Dock in memory of those that lost their lives and in hope that the last victim of the accident, 27-year-old Ravisham Pillay is found.

The wreck of the Leviathan II drifted about seven km into calmer waters coming to a rest on the northeast side of Vargas Island; a testament to the power of the currents in that area. Work crews righted the boat and began preparing it for its final trip to Tofino.

The strong smell of diesel fuel filled the air and the rainbow coloured sheen from the oil could be seen quite a distance from the wreck.

Searchers in boats continue to patrol the reefs between Vargas and Flores Islands, while ground crews search the shoreline for the missing Australian man.

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