BRITISH COLUMBIA

Tofino Boat Sinking Kills British Tourists

10/26/2015 01:23 EDT | Updated 10/26/2015 07:59 EDT

TOFINO, B.C. - All five people who died after a whale-watching ship sank off the west coast of Vancouver Island were British nationals, Britain's Foreign Office confirmed Monday.

"My thoughts are with the family and friends of all those affected by this terrible accident," British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in a statement, adding that consular staff in B.C. are supporting the family members of those who died.

The tour boat with 24 passengers and three crew members on board sank on Sunday about 15 kilometres northwest of Tofino, B.C.

UPDATE - 11:30 a.m. PT: Three of the victims were vacationing from Britain, while two were British nationals who lived in Canada, said the BC Coroners Service. The four men and one woman ranged in age from 18 to 76.

First responders managed to rescue 21 passengers, some of them injured. The search for one person who was still missing was called off Sunday night and the RCMP was handling it as a missing-person case.

Authorities have not said what might have caused the boat to sink. The Transportation Safety Board confirmed it is investigating the accident.

tofino boat sinking Canadian Coast Guard crew arrive at a dock in Tofino, B.C., shortly after midnight following a search and rescue operation.

Boats from the nearby Ahousaht First Nation that answered the ship's mayday call on Sunday around 4 p.m. found it partially submerged.

Ahousaht First Nation Coun. Tom Campbell was on the Tofino waterfront and watched as rescue personnel brought several of the survivors ashore.

"Their looks tell the whole story," he said by telephone from Tofino. "You can't describe looks on people that are lost. They look totally lost — shocked and lost.''

Campbell, who wasn't on the water, said his cousin pulled at least eight people from the water into a boat on Sunday afternoon.

Valerie Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Vancouver Island Health Authority, said 18 people were brought to the Tofino General Hospital.

Three who were more seriously injured were transferred to other hospitals on Vancouver Island and were in stable condition, Wilson said. The condition of the others wasn't known.

The 20-metre boat — named The Leviathan II — belonged to the local whale-watching outfit Jamie's Whaling Station.

The company issued a statement saying it was a tragic day and its entire team was heartbroken.

"We are doing everything we can to assist our passengers and staff through this difficult time," owner Jamie Bray said. "We are co-operating with investigators to determine exactly what happened.

Bray also offered his sincere thanks to first responders, Tofino residents and local First Nations communities who assisted with the rescue.

tofino boat sinks

Albert Titian, who was among those from the Ahousaht First Nation who rushed to the scene to help, took this photo of the sinking vessel.

This isn't the first fatal incident on the company's record. In 1998 one of their smaller vessels capsized during a sightseeing excursion, sending all four people on board into the water, the Transportation Safety Board said. The operator and one of the passengers died.

Meanwhile, community members in Tofino rallied to offer help, bringing food, blankets and clothing to survivors and rescuers alike.

The mayor of Tofino commended locals for their contributions.

"Everybody's heart is just breaking for what's going on here and wanting to be as helpful as possible," said Josie Osborne in a telephone interview late Sunday.

Osborne said a community gathering is being planned for Monday evening in Tofino.

Prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau also thanked all those who participated in the rescue effort and offered his condolences to the victims and their families.

"I know firsthand of this coastal area's natural beauty and the many people who visit here from all around the world," Trudeau said in a statement.

"My thoughts and prayers are with the passengers, the crew, and their families at this most difficult time."

Whale-Watching Boat Sinks Near Tofino, B.C.

With files from Merita Ilo in Toronto