Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ferry's fate was sealed quickly

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VANCOUVER -- The first moment anyone from the outside world knew something was amiss on the Queen of the North passenger ferry, crippled and taking on water off the northern coast of British Columbia, came at roughly 22 minutes past midnight on a windy March night seven years ago.

"Traffic: This is Queen of the North, Queen of the North, Queen of the North," the ship's second officer, Kevin Hilton, called into his marine radio.

"Traffic, traffic: We have run aground south of Sainty Point, several miles south of Sainty Point. Stand by for position."

The ship had just struck Gil Island. About 20 minutes before that, the vessel missed a crucial turn as it sailed down B.C.'s Inside Passage with 101 people on board.

Audio recordings of what happened next were played Wednesday at the criminal negligence trial of Karl Lilgert, who was fourth officer on the ship. Lilgert is charged in connection to the deaths of two passengers, who haven't been seen since the ferry sank on March 22, 2006.

The recordings suggest there was no sign of trouble, at least none reported to marine operators, as the ship sailed on a collision course toward Gil Island.

They also show how fast the situation turned catastrophic: Within minutes, the ship was listing to one side, passengers were being herded onto lifeboats and nearby fishing vessels were summoned to the area to help.

The trial has heard Lilgert was alone on the bridge with quartermaster Karen Bricker, his former lover, at the time of the collision. The audio recordings suggest the accident wasn't reported on the radio until Hilton returned to the bridge.

In the minute or so that followed, a marine officer in Prince Rupert, where the ship had departed from four hours earlier, struggled to pin down the ship's position. Within two minutes, the ferry was asking for help,

"We require assistance," said a crew member on the ship, identified in a court transcript as Janice O'Neill.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 31, 2013 A13

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