A family of two adults and five children floated in the frigid water and prayed in the dark after their fishing boat started sinking in B.C.'s Georgia Strait.
The family — with kids aged three to 15 — was moving from Surrey to northern Vancouver Island. All their possessions were packed on the 30-foot gillnet fishing vessel, reported Global News.
The boat was three kilometres from shore off Galiano Island on Monday night when it started taking on water. Scott Brown yelled for everyone to abandon ship, reported CTV News.
"The water filled the whole cabin," wrote Brown's wife, Ursula Stephens, in a Facebook post. "Everything that was in the cabin plugged the doorways and window."
She said she was trying to reach the life jackets but the boat tipped on its side, and she got stuck in the cabin. She wrote that she managed to get two life jackets onto her sons.
Stephens kicked her way out, and ended up clinging onto the railing, while three of her children clung to the bow. She said the whole boat was submerged except for the top left cabin.
"We knew that my three year old and my 9 year old had no weight to handle the cold waters so we put them on the roof part where there was just a bit that wasn't sunk," said her Facebook post.
"I was trying to grasp at anything that would float but every time I grasped for something the wave would pull it from me."
Stephens told Global: “I told the kids to count the waves and not to scream or panic, just pray louder and harder every time that big wave comes.”
“We were only in the water 20, 25 minutes but it felt like forever," Nagaysha Brown, 15, told CTV.
Capt. Tom Moxey and six other crew members on the Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft Siyay rescued the family 25 minutes after Brown made a mayday call on a handheld VHF marine radio, reported The Vancouver Sun. He used the light from his iPhone to help guide the crew to the family's location.
Stephens called the rescuers "angels."
Acting Sub. Lt. Ron MacDougall of the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Victoria said the family suffered mild to moderate hypothermia from being in the very cold water.
Two B.C. Ferries, the Spirit of Vancouver Island and the Queen of Cowichan, as well as two Coast Guard vessels and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter were also at the scene to assist in the rescue if needed.
MacDougall could not say what caused the vessel to begin to sink, but noted the ship was in an area with rapids and may have been swamped.
Coast Guard spokeswoman Susan Pickrell said there were only four life jackets on board, according to CBC.
With files from The Canadian Press
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