UPDATE - March 21, 2013: RCMP have recovered the body of a Gabriola Island woman, 32, from the submerged car on Thursday.
GABRIOLA ISLAND, B.C. - RCMP believe there was a lone driver in a car that slammed through a metal gate, roared over an open ferry deck and plunged into the water, but so far have not found a body.
A recovery operation underway off a BC Ferries dock on Gabriola Island, B.C., Wednesday turned up the vehicle submerged under more than 35 metres of water.
"We had search and rescue go out to make a patrol of the beaches to see if we could locate anybody from the vehicle, a driver," Sgt. Sheryl Armstrong said.
"We can't confirm if there was passengers, we know for sure there was one person involved."
BC Ferries CEO Mike Corrigan says the situation prompted the RCMP to call in the navy for help accessing the vehicle.
"It's a very sad situation, it was a six-foot barrier gate there, a metal barrier gate that this vehicle rammed through at a high rate of speed," Corrigan said in an interview.
The incident happened at about 3:45 a.m. The MV Quinsam ferry had been "home ported" at the Gabriola Island dock and wasn't due to resume service for a few hours.
The small island is located about five kilometres east of Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island.
The Quinsam is an open car-deck ferry, with both the front and back ends of the boat open.
Corrigan said a night watchman witnessed the incident, though he had not been able to tell if someone was inside at the time.
Armstrong said police believe someone was driving.
"Because there is a curve, I would assume that there probably was somebody doing that," she said. "If you have a medically-induced condition, you're assuming the person is probably going to go straight and not curve around."
He said he expects the RCMP to give some indication of when BC Ferries can resume operations later.
In the meantime, a water taxi service was set up between the island and Nanaimo to ferry commuters.
"Gabriola's a small community, it's come together under this potentially-tragic set of circumstances," Corrigan said.
"Our crew is there — who would normally be sailing the Quinsam — and helping out passengers."
BC Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall said damage to the ferry was minimal.
Some hydraulic lines to the ferry's apron were damaged, but the crew would be able to operate it manually until the lines could be fixed, she said in an email.
Divers were expected to return to the scene Thursday morning to resume searching for the driver.
(The Canadian Press, CKWV)