ST. ANNS BAY — An RCMP dive team searched the icy depths of St. Anns Bay on Tuesday for a car that plunged off the Englishtown ferry into the water.
Staff-Sgt. Craig Yorke, who was running the recovery operation from a command post on the north side of the bay, said divers had not found the car and the RCMP still did not know how many people were inside the vehicle when it boarded the ferry Torquil MacLean and drove off the other end at about 8:45 p.m. Monday.
Yorke said by Tuesday afternoon it was a recovery operation rather than a rescue mission because it had been so many hours since the accident happened and a search of the shoreline uncovered nothing.
RCMP suspended the search at about 6 p.m. on Tuesday and are expected to resume looking for the vehicle today.
The car landed in the water 20 to 30 metres from shore and was last seen approximately 200 metres from where it entered the water.
Yorke said the operator of the ferry blew the horn and an employee tried to stop the car by knocking on a window, but to no avail.
“It happened so fast they couldn’t get the eye contact with the operator of the vehicle at the time. They tried their best to try to stop them.”
RCMP don’t know why the car drove into the water but may learn more when the driver has been identified, perhaps by speaking to family members and looking at medical information, he said.
Divers were concentrating the search Tuesday on an area where local fishermen, who were also searching the bay, had noticed an oil sheen in the water.
Darryn Sampson, one of the RCMP divers, said the water was cold and the current was strong, while visibility underwater was limited. Divers were also dealing with high winds at times throughout the day.
Local residents lining the shore to watch the search estimated the depth of the water near the search area at 70 feet or more.
Fishermen searched the bay Monday night and into the early hours of Tuesday morning, stopped for several hours amid foggy conditions and resumed Tuesday morning, said Yorke.
Local residents, including a number of firefighters from several area departments, scoured the shoreline.
“We are very lucky to have people who are dedicated and who come out, especially in this type of weather, and spend hours on the water helping us,” said Yorke.
“We are very, very appreciative of that.”
Lorraine Bona of West Tarbot, a member of the North Shore and District Fire Department, helped search the shoreline Monday evening and Tuesday, and was also serving hot soup and sandwiches to people Tuesday.
“It is a very sad thing,” she said.
Transportation Minister Maurice Smith said his department has launched its own investigation into the accident.
“Along with the RCMP, we are following through with our own standard protocols that includes an internal investigation on what happened,” he said in a release.
An internal investigation includes interviews with crew members working at the time and an inspection of the ferry. The Torquil MacLean, one of the province’s busiest ferries, went into service in 2008.
The ferry remains out of service until further notice, meaning motorists looking to access the Cabot Trail will have to add a half-hour to their trip by using the road that hugs the coastline around St. Anns harbour.
Travellers can receive up-to-date information about the ferry by dialing 511 or checking the flashing lights at Barrachois, South Haven and Englishtown that notify motorists when the ferry is not in operation.