Without them, it would have been much worse.
Six people died in October’s whale watching tragedy when the Leviathan II capsized in waters off Tofino.
But thanks to the selfless efforts of ten rescuers, 21 lives were saved.
And today they were officially recognized by the Lifesaving Society for their bravery.
“The presentation today is the Governor’s Gold Award for Bravery.”
A ceremony to mark a tragic occasion.
But the ten people honored today with Bravery Awards from the Lifesaving Society rushed to a deadly scene, and in doing so, saved many lives.
Just the bow of the Leviathan II is visible above the water line.
Minutes earlier, it here arrived with 27 people on board, at Plover’s Reef.
A daily stop to watch a colony of sea lions.
But then ship started rolling, and quickly capsized.
Throwing everyone into the frigid waters.
“We were pulling our gear out of the water, fishing gear.
And I happened to look behind the boat, out towards the open ocean.
And I saw a flare, emergency flare, go off in the sky.”
That single flare would be the only warning from the tour boat.
The crew had no time for a mayday call.
Brown and Clarence Smith were several kilometres away, but headed straight toward the flare.
They spotted survivors in a life raft, shouting about people in the water.
They started picking people out of the water, made difficult because they were all now covered in diesel fuel.
But they continued, until they had 15 survivors on board.
All traumatized, in shock, hypothermic and many injured.
More residents of Ahousaht responded to the distress flare.
They rescued another eight people, desperately clinging to a single life ring.
Chief Greg Louie says the Ahousaht members did what they have always done.
“We will help save anybody that passes through our territory, when they are in distress.
At times they will even sacrifice their own lives.”
Crewmembers Trinity Jezierski and Etienne Herold are credited with saving ten lives.
Jezierski deployed the life raft, and Herold set off the flare that triggered the entire rescue.
“We just did what we needed to be done.
You train for that but you just can’t fathom what needs to be done.”
“You’re just doing what have to do in that situation to survive, right?.
You don’t have any time to react.
You’re adrenaline kicks in and you just go through it.”
An investigation into the cause of the tragedy is still under investigation.