NTC says ‘critical changes’ needed to water taxi and float plane traffic in Tofino

The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council says major changes are needed to improve traffic safety in the Port of Tofino, especially around seaplanes and water taxis.

The call stems from a recent report from the Canadian Transportation Safety Board regarding an incident on October 18, 2021, in which a seaplane struck a water taxi near the First Street Pier.

“Many Nuu-chah-nulth on the West Coast rely on seaplanes and water taxis to get home, and NTC employees have been using these forms of transportation to serve the West Coast community,” said NTC Vice President Rice Doron. “We want to keep them safe with the highest standards possible.”

According to the TSB report, the Oct. 18 incident occurred around 4:30 p.m. when a de Havilland DHC-2 MK I aircraft equipped with floats and a water taxi named Rocky Pass operated by Tofino Airways Collision near the First Street Pier in Tofino. The Transportation Safety Board’s report indicated that the plane was “severely damaged,” although the pilot and all five passengers were able to escape with only minor injuries, including a passenger in the water taxi.

It explained that the water taxi was about 300 meters from the terminal, waiting for the berth to open.

“Shortly thereafter, two water taxis on the pier radioed to announce their intention to depart and the Rocky Pass operator restarted the engine and continued to the pier,” it read. “At this point, the operator noticed people on the pier waving their arms, trying to warn him of something, which caused him to turn around and look back through the starboard window. He then saw the aircraft about 15 meters away on the water, heading towards The ship flew away. The operator applied left rudder to the ship to try to avoid the collision. However, within seconds, the aircraft and ship collided.”

The NTC noted that this is the second seaplane crash in the port in a short period of time, adding that NTC Chairman Judith Sayers was a passenger on board the seaplane that crashed in the port on July 26, 2021 .

“Canada must change its legislation and policies so that they have the power to regulate speed at ports, as local authorities have done nothing to address a significant safety issue,” Sayers said in the NTC’s April 3 statement. “Or at least Canada must force local authorities to implement slowdowns so they can take action if necessary.”

The TSB report outlines high tourist and residential traffic around the Port of Tofino, especially during the summer months.

Tofino has a permanent population of approximately 2,000, but it is a popular tourist destination, receiving many visitors during the summer months. In 2018, for example, an estimated 600,000 people visited Tofino, with visitor numbers estimated to peak at nearly 70,000 in August of that year. Water activities are a major draw for Tofino visitors,” the report reads.

“The Port of Tofino is also an important link for people living in remote communities on the west coast of Vancouver Island, including members of the Tla-o-qui-aht, Ahousaht and Hesquiaht First Nations. Water taxi and air operators regularly transport residents of these communities to Deliveries to Tofino for groceries, medical treatment and travel to other parts of Vancouver Island. They also transport vital service personnel such as nurses, teachers and specialists to and from these communities.”

The Transportation Safety Board suggested that designating seaplane landing zones and vessel speed limits could reduce the likelihood of future accidents, adding that the First Street Pier “falls under the general responsibility of the Tofino District.”

“If a busy port that accommodates ship and aircraft traffic does not have designated aircraft landing areas, means for aircraft to signal, or ship speed limits, the risk of collision increases due to ships and aircraft operating in close proximity to high speeds,” the report reads.

After the July 2021 crash, the Transportation Safety Board made the same recommendation on speed limits at the Port of Tofino, but did not implement any changes, the NTC noted.

“If Transport Canada’s process of enforcing safe speeds in ports is entirely dependent on local authorities recognizing that there is a risk and proactively initiating the process of imposing restrictions, there is a risk that the restrictions will not be enforced and vessels will continue to operate at speeds that create a risk of collision, said Sayers.

NTC is calling on the federal government to step in and prioritize public safety in a busy port like Tofino.

“Historically, Canada has tended to ignore or delay the critical findings and recommendations of approved TSCs, Canadian committees, investigations and organizations. This is unacceptable because lives are at risk if these findings are not acted on Medium. Why bother with the TSB, committee, or other agency to come up with findings and recommendations if the Canadian government is doing nothing about it?” the NTC wrote in an April 3 statement.

“Having a seaplane accident is physically, emotionally and mentally traumatic and it is possible to prevent such accidents if the federal government implements the findings and recommendations from these two incidents.”

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First NationsTofino, Transportation Safety Board

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