VANCOUVER - The first moment anyone from the outside world knew something was amiss on the Queen of the North passenger ferry, crippled and taking on water off the northern coast of British Columbia, came at roughly 22 minutes past midnight on a windy March night seven years ago.

"Traffic: this is Queen of the North, Queen of the North, Queen of the North," the ship's second officer, Kevin Hilton, called into his marine radio.

"Traffic, traffic: we have run aground south of Sainty Point, several miles south of Sainty Point. Stand by for position."

The ship had just struck Gil Island. About 20 minutes before that, the vessel missed a crucial turn as it sailed down B.C.'s Inside Passage with 101 people on board.

Audio recordings of what happened next were played Wednesday at the criminal negligence trial for Karl Lilgert, who was fourth officer on the ship. Lilgert is charged in connection to the deaths of two passengers, who haven't been seen since the ferry sank on March 22, 2006.

The recordings suggest there was no sign of trouble, at least none reported to marine operators, as the ship sailed on a collision course toward Gil Island.

They also show how fast the situation turned catastrophic: within minutes, the ship was listing to one side, passengers were being herded onto life boats and nearby fishing vessels were summoned to the area to help.

The trial has heard that Lilgert was alone on the bridge with quartermaster Karen Bricker, his former lover, at the time of the collision. The audio recordings suggest the accident wasn't reported on the radio until Hilton returned to the bridge.

In the minute or so that followed, a marine officer in Prince Rupert, where the ship had departed from four hours earlier, struggled to pin down the ship's position.

Within two minutes, the ferry was asking for help,

"We require assistance," said a crew member on the ship, identified in a court transcript as Janice O'Neill.

"And confirm that you are not taking on water?" asked marine operator Kim Brownlee, who testified about the recordings on Wednesday.

"We are taking on water," replied O'Neill.

And then, from the ship's captain, Colin Henthorne: "Our list is increasing. We need assistance immediately."

Several minutes after that, the evacuation was in full swing.

"How many people do you have on board," asked Brownlee.

"We have 101 persons on board the ship," replied O'Neill. "We are proceeding, readying life boats and life rafts."

Meanwhile, operators of a number of fishing vessels offered to help. Some were within a half hour from the sinking vessel. Others were farther, in some cases hours away, but told to head to the scene anyway.

About 12 minutes after the collision was first reported, a resident in a tiny First Nations community north of Gil Island took to the radio.

"This is Hartley Bay," said resident Eddie Robinson. "We're trying to get some boats to come out."

Eventually, the community had at least three fast-response boats in the water and two 10-metre fishing vessels headed to the Queen of the North.

As those boats were on the way, an ominous message came from the ferry.

"We have abandoned the ship now," said chief officer Richard St. Pierre. "We have five life rafts, one rescue boat and two life boats in the water."

The passengers were taken either to Hartley Bay, where they were put up in a local community centre, or a coast guard ship, the Sir Wilfred Laurier, that was already in the area.

Throughout the morning, marine traffic operators, people involved in the rescue, and rescue officials in the Victoria area struggled to confirm both how many people had been on board the ship and how many made it off.

The tally of passengers and crew on the ferry fluctuated, alternating between 101 and 102, the trial heard. So did the number of missing one, maybe two, or perhaps none at all.

In the end, 99 passengers and crew survived the sinking. Two passengers, Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette, were never seen again and are presumed drowned.

The jury heard about two hours of audio recordings on Wednesday.

The Crown has alleged Lilgert was responsible for the missed course correction, and that he failed to take any evasive actions before the ferry struck Gil Island.

The defence has suggested Lilgert was faced with poor training, unreliable equipment and inadequate policies within BC Ferries the former Crown corporation that operates the province's ferry system.

Lilgert has pleaded not guilty to two counts of criminal negligence causing death. His trial, before a jury, is expected to last up to six months.

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  • Karl Lilgert

    <a href="">Karl Lilgert</a>, the officer in charge of a B.C. Ferry when it struck an island and sank in 2006 killing two people, pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal negligence causing death.

  • Failed Love Didn't Sink Ferry: Lawyer

    The crew member piloting a B.C. passenger ferry as it slammed into an island was alone on the bridge with his former lover for the first time since their relationship ended, a Crown lawyer told the opening of <a href="">Karl Lilgert's trial</a>.

  • Ferry Sank On Clear Night

    First came an unusually loud noise, and then the boat rocked, but the colours of the passenger ferry's radar screen are what <a href="">Kevin Hilton</a> recalls most vividly. "I could see the ship was right up against the red. We had run aground," the Queen of the North's second officer recalled.

  • Trapped On Sinking Ferry

    Lynn Cloutier, a cleaner on the Queen of the North ferry, testified about <a href="">how she was trapped</a> as the vessel crashed.

  • Blamed Other Vessel

    The officer in charge of navigating the <a href="">Queen of the North</a> blamed another vessel and poor visibility minutes after the B.C. Ferries ship missed a critical turn and slammed into an island, one of his colleagues testified in B.C. Supreme Court.

  • Karen Briker Not Trained

    <a href="">Karen Briker</a>, a quartermaster and former lover of a crew member charged in a fatal ferry sinking off B.C.'s coast, says fourth officer Karl Lilgert gave her an order to <a href="" target="_blank">switch the ship off autopilot</a> just before it hit an island, but she didn't know how to do that.

  • Ferry May Have Been Short-Staffed

    A senior crew member on the <a href="">Queen of the North</a> testified before a B.C. Supreme Court jury that staff didn't have a clear interpretation of the regulations over how many people were required to man the bridge.

  • Safety Checks Missed

    <a href="" target="_blank">Basic safety measures and checks were missed</a>, according to a veteran mariner. "The fact that no action was taken substantially to get back onto its proper course — in my professional opinion — is an extreme, catastrophic dereliction of your duty," said expert mariner Andrew Flotre to the court.

  • 'Honest Mistake'

    B.C. ferry navigator Karl Lilgert admitted in court it must have been his own "<a href="" target="_blank">honest mistake</a>" that caused the Queen of the North to miss a scheduled turn and crash into a remote island seven years ago.

  • Karl Lilgert Verdict: Guilty

    On May 13, jury members found B.C. ferry navigator Karl Lilgert <a href="" target="_blank">guilty of criminal negligence</a> causing two deaths. Lilgert will be sentenced June 21.