Search underway for missing fishers off Mary's Harbour

·5 min read
Marc Russell and a second crew member aboard the Island Lady. The pair was last heard from around 4:00 p.m. on Friday. (Submitted/Dwight Russell  - image credit)
Marc Russell and a second crew member aboard the Island Lady. The pair was last heard from around 4:00 p.m. on Friday. (Submitted/Dwight Russell - image credit)
Submitted/Dwight Russell
Submitted/Dwight Russell

The father of a fisherman missing at sea is asking boats from Southern Labrador and Northern Newfoundland to join the search effort for his son and a second crew member.

The two-person crew aboard Island Lady was expected to land in Mary's Harbour around 5:00 p.m. on Friday.

Around 6:30 p.m that evening, Dwight Russell checked his son Marc's Facebook Messenger account to see whether it showed him active and online.

"I usually checks with that account every day just to make sure he's home," he said. "I started getting worried because I called home and he hasn't been in to ship his fish. It was then that I had a gut feeling that something was going on."

Russell himself was out on the water. His boat had run into problems and was being towed by a trawler, but he contacted friends who immediately went out to start the search in their own vessels, just before dark.

"They searched all through the night," Russell said. "Some of them left yesterday and never came back yet."

The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) and the Canadian Coast Guard have multiple helicopters and boats searching for the pair.

460 square nautical miles searched

According to JRCC, as of 6 p.m. NT Saturday, the search had covered 460 square nautical miles, with high probability areas searched multiple times.

There are plans to expand the search area overnight and to continue the effort into Sunday.

Russell said he alerted the Coast Guard when when he called his friends to start the search.

According to public affairs officer Lt.-Cmdr. Brian Owens, the JRCC first learned about Island Lady being overdue around 8 p.m NT Friday, after The Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John's — a JRCC substation — heard radio traffic from local fishing crews already searching the area.

From there, he said, a Hercules aircraft and Cormorant helicopter were quickly dispatched from 14 Wing Greenwood in Nova Scotia and 9 Wing Gander. Two coast guard vessels were sent to the area and an urgent broadcast was conducted by Labrador Coast Guard Radio.

Twitter/@hfxjrcc
Twitter/@hfxjrcc

Owens confirmed the search area was expanded Saturday morning and more resources were added to the effort, including the factory freezer trawler the Northern Osprey III, Coast Guard icebreaker Captain Molly Kool, a Griffon helicopter from 5 Wing Goose Bay, aircraft from PAL Airlines as well as another aircraft from Nova Scotia equipped with heat signature equipment.

Local fishers are continuing to help the effort.

"Currently the weather is not as favourable for searching visually," Owens said.

Wave height has decreased from four meters down to three meters, but fog and a low cloud ceiling present challenges, he said.

"It just requires us to be even more vigilant as we're flying over the area and searching in the water," Owens said.

"But these crews are professionals, they're used to these conditions, and are trained in multiple conditions like this. So it's just a matter of taking our time and proceeding with the known searching techniques in order to build a picture so we can eventually find these individuals."

Weather expected to improve Sunday

Russell and the JRCC both say weather conditions are expected to improve Sunday.

"There's a lot more we can do," Russell said. "I want to reach out to all of my friends, no matter where you're from, Northern Newfoundland or Southern Labrador, if there's any way you can help or assist in the search, I think tomorrow is going to be a critical day, if we don't find Marc and his friend this evening."

Through emergency services, Russell was able to learn Marc used his satellite phone to call the local fish plant at 4:14 p.m. on Friday. According to Russell, the connection was too distorted for the person at the fish plant to understand who was calling or what was being said.

They made another call three minutes later and from that call, Russell said, they were able to determine the crew's position — just off Battle Harbour.

Gary Locke/CBC
Gary Locke/CBC

According to the JRCC, the Island Lady is a cape islander-style open hull fishing vessel. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police say the boat was equipped with a VHF radio and two outboard motors.

The aircraft involved in the search will rotate in and out for fuel and crew rest but the JRCC will try to maintain a constant presence, searching different patterns to try and locate the vessel, according to Owens.

When asked about the number of resources attached to the search for Island Lady and crew, Owen said "in this case, some of the determining factors [are] the location, the time in which it was reported overdue and, additionally, the weather conditions right now.

"When we have resources available and the controllers in the centre determine that more assets are needed, we'll commit the right number of supports to it," he said.

The missing fishermen are from communities on the south coast of Labrador, close to where they had been fishing for cod.

Owens confirmed there were two reports of flares seen overnight. He said both those incidents were investigated and nothing was found. It could be the case, he said, that flares were fired from search vessels or aircraft in order to illuminate an area.

The boat left Mary's Harbour at about 6:00 a.m. Friday. RCMP say they were told about the situation around 9:30 p.m.

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