Mar 19, 2013 / 7:34 pm
Morgan Chisholm was at the helm of a coast guard fast-rescue craft, speeding around the tip of an island off the northern coast of British Columbia, when he saw the glow of lights reflecting off the clouds.
Chisholm was certain it was the Queen of the North passenger ferry, which was crippled and taking on water after striking the opposite end of that island, but the light suddenly disappeared.
"I just assumed (the ferry) had gone behind a mountain," Chisholm testified Tuesday at the criminal negligence trial of a Queen of the North crew member.
"About two minutes later, the (coast guard ship Sir Wilfrid) Laurier called us and said the Queen of the North was gone, which put a bit of fear into us."
The Queen of the North had sailed into Gil Island shortly after midnight on March 22, 2006, ripping apart its hull and forcing its passengers and crew into life rafts and life boats to wait for help in the darkness.
The stories of the survivors and of those sent to the scene to help are being retold at the trial of navigation officer Karl Lilgert, who is charged with criminal negligence causing the deaths of two passengers.
When Chisholm saw the glow from the Queen of the North disappear, he didn't know how many people made it to safety or whether anyone was missing or in the water. He had been roused from sleep by a colleague aboard the Sir Wilfrid Laurier and told a ferry had sailed into a rock, but otherwise he had little information about the disaster he was heading towards.
Another coast guard crew member aboard the fast-rescue craft pointed a search light into the water ahead, lighting up the reflective tape on countless life jackets.
"At this point, we don't know anything," Chisholm told a BC Supreme Court jury.The Crown has alleged Lilgert failed in his duties when he missed a scheduled course alteration and sailed the ferry into an island.
The defence has blamed poor weather, bad training and unreliable equipment, while also suggesting the ferry was off course because Lilgert was attempting to avoid a fishing boat.
Lilgert has pleaded not guilty to two counts of criminal negligence causing death.
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