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)
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<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/01/09/queen-of-the-north-karl-lilgert-negligence_n_2442439.html">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="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/01/17/karl-lilgert-bc-ferry-queen-of-the-north-sinking_n_2493214.html">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="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/18/karl-lilgert-trial-bc-ferry-weather_n_2712742.html">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="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/12/karl-lilgert-trial-queen-of-the-north-gong_n_2671475.html">how she was trapped</a> as the vessel crashed.
Blamed Other Vessel
The officer in charge of navigating the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/19/karl-lilgert-trial-navigator-blames-boat-visibility-bc-ferry-crash_n_2718578.html">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="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/04/karl-lilgert-trial-karen-briker-ferry-crash-autopilot_n_2807001.html">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="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/05/karl-lilgert-trial-karen-briker-autopilot-training_n_2812881.html" 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="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/21/karl-lilgert-trial-bc-ferry-staff_n_2735070.html">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="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/04/11/karl-lilgert-trial-bc-ferry-safety-checks_n_3064039.html" 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.
B.C. ferry navigator Karl Lilgert admitted in court it must have been his own "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/05/02/karl-lilgert-trial-bc-ferry-sinking_n_3203093.html" 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="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/05/13/karl-lilgert-guilty-queen-of-the-north_n_3269214.html" target="_blank">guilty of criminal negligence</a> causing two deaths. Lilgert will be sentenced June 21.