Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council President Judith Sayers has filed a civil claim for negligence and damages against Atleo River Air Service Ltd., after a seaplane overturned and crashed into shallow water in 2021, leaving Sayers with serious injuries.
On July 26, 2021 Sayers was on her way to Hot Springs Cove aboard an Atleo River Air seaplane with her son, alongside two other passengers.
While departing from the Tofino Harbour preparing for a northwest-bound take off, they were temporarily delayed due to traffic along the take off path, reads an investigation report from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.
Once cleared they began to accelerate, crossing paths with the wake from a boat, which caused them to slow down. The report indicates that in an attempt to gain a longer take off run, the pilot performed a right-hand turn to reach the deep-water channel.
The aircraft lifted off at a low speed, at first by the left float then by the right, while the right turn continued, reads the report. The investigation was unable to determine if a second boat wake affected the crash.
The aircraft yawed, rolled to the left, and lost altitude simultaneously, reads the report. First the floats touched the water then the left-wing tip. The aircraft bounced to the right and as the right wing touched the water the aircraft yawed in that direction and skidded along the water, the report continued.
As the left float dug into the ocean, the aircraft overturned landing upside down along the sandbar in one foot of water.
“[It] seemed to be having a really hard time getting up in the air,” said Sayers. “We finally got up in the air and then we started rocking, really rocking hard.”
“I just thought, ‘Oh, he’s got it, he’s going to get it under control’,” said Sayers. “But he didn’t.”
“We flipped over and the top of the aircraft was on the sandbar; they call it ‘Dead Man's Island’,” she continued.
Sayers was hanging upside down from her seat with her head in the water, she told Ha-Shilth-Sa.
She heard scraping on the sand just above her head. At the time she didn’t realize how close to the sandbar they had crashed, said Sayers.
Luckily, Sayers’ son, who was also on the float plane, rescued her.
“I felt fingers underneath my head lifting me up,” she said.
Her son lifted her head out of the water and undid Sayers’ seatbelt. She then fell and had to squeeze out of the side window with assistance, she said.
Once Sayers got out of the float plane she sat on its wing looking out to the Tofino harbor.
“Every single boat in that harbor was around us,” she said.
They offered help, but the Coast Guard had arrived to rescue Sayers and the other passengers, bringing them to safety.
“I didn't even know the plane was upside down until I looked back,” she added. “We were really lucky to be alive.”
The report indicates that survival of the passengers was likely due to the crash being in shallow waters.
The five people on the plane were then taken to the Tofino hospital, and a healing team from Ahousaht came to brush them off, said Sayers.
Three months later, in the Tofino Harbour, a float plane collided into an Ahousaht water taxi, with no serious injuries.
“Tofino is unregulated,” said Sayers. “It’s not a waterdrome.”
A waterdrome is an area delegated to the landing and launching of aircrafts on a body of water.
The Tofino Harbor has no delegated areas for seaplanes to take off and land, reads the report.
“It's up to the harbor authority to be working with the transportation board to regulate speed,” she added.
“So many of our communities are fly-in communities,” said Sayers. “This isn’t just a Tofino issue, but it’s up and down the coast.”
W. Sean Taylor, acting for Atleo River Air Service Ltd., responded to Ha-Shilth-Sa and said, in an email, that their “client will not be speaking publicly about the incident at this time.”
“We will be filing a response to [the] civil claim on behalf of Atleo Air in the near future,” wrote Taylor in an email.