Travis Thomas, pictured on Bartlett Island in Ahousaht territory, was last seen on the island Aug. 7, 2018. (Facebook photo)
Ahousaht Search and Rescue is planning an exhaustive search of the small, rugged Bartlett Island and surrounding islets for the week of Aug. 26 to 29. They are calling physically fit volunteers to take part in the search for one of their members who was last seen on the island more than a year ago.
Travis Thomas was 40 years old when he went missing from Bartlett Island in August 2018.
The father of four was dealing with the sudden of death of his wife and alcohol abuse became a problem. His family has stated that he may have had deeper mental health issues than simple depression.
With the support of his family, Thomas left the village and went for a few weeks of camping in solitude on Bartlett Island, an effort to heal and reconnect with his culture. He was last seen on the island Aug. 7 and was reported missing on Aug. 9 when family members could not locate him during a routine check.
In the following days dozens took part in a thorough search of Bartlett Island by land, sea and air. Both Tofino and Ahousaht Search and Rescue teams, the RCMP, the Canadian Coast Guard and volunteers all took part in the search. But the forest is dense, the island is rocky and rugged with large crevices and it is surrounded by smaller islets.
The official search was called off by the end of August but the family never gave up hope that Travis was still there, refusing to come out. Travis’ parents and other close family members took the 20-minute boat ride almost daily to search, to call out to Travis and to leave behind food and supplies.
They believe he is there, alive, and will come out in his own time.
“Yesterday they (searchers) heard someone running by them in the bush,” said Curtis Dick, who is helping to organize the upcoming search effort next week.
He went on to say that Jean, Travis’ mother, set up a tent for him on the beach he was last seen at; she left a sleeping bag and some food in the tent.
“The food she left is gone and the sleeping bag was moved from one side of the tent to the other so it’s getting used,” said Dick.
He went on to say that footprints have been found and people have said that he talks to and waves at the kids when they come out to search. There have been several unconfirmed sightings over the past year.
A year later, Dick and Ahousaht Search and Rescue team are organizing the extensive four-day search of the island and are calling on volunteers to help. In his long career in emergency services coordination, Dick is connected with several agencies and local businesses that he has called upon to take part in a coordinated search effort.
According to Dick, the RCMP is on Bartlett Island with search dogs from Friday, Aug. 23 to Saturday Aug. 24. The RCMP was not available for comment by press time. Local tour operators and volunteer searchers have been asked to avoid Bartlett Island for the next few days to allow the RCMP to do their work.
The family is being updated each evening in Ahousaht.
While Ahousaht cannot get support from some agencies like Emergency Management BC due to policy, they have the support of the First Nations Health Authority and the NTC’s Teechuktl Mental Health department, who will provide some assistance for the duration of the search.
Dick said that rides will be provided for those volunteers willing to come to Ahousaht to take part in the search.
“If the whole community could go (search), we would go,” said Dick, adding that in modern times, people need to work for a living and many can’t afford to take time off.
Searchers must be physically fit and should bring a small backpack, flashlight, water bottle and hiking shoes or boots. Meals and water refills will be provided.
Volunteers are asked to get to Ahousaht on Aug. 26 to sign in at the Thunderbird Hall. Billeting is available for those needing a place to stay. On Aug. 27 to 29 volunteers will meet at the Thunderbird Hall at 5:30 a.m. for breakfast. They will take a boat to Bartlett Island at 7 a.m., and the search begins at 8 a.m.
A command station will be set up on the beach location of the last confirmed sighting of Thomas. The search ends at 5 p.m. each day with everyone going to Ahousaht for dinner, followed by a community debriefing session.
Dick said that Jean, Travis’ mother, is optimistic and pleased that this effort is being made to find her son.
If you would like to volunteer in the search, please call Curtis Dick at 250-720-5809, or correspond through his ‘Curtis Dick’ Facebook account. You may also email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com .