"We are angry"

Search called off too soon says father

Published on February 22, 2013
A life raft, spotted by a US Coast Guard aircraft Monday morning was never sighted again.


By Amy Woolvett

Too many opportunities were lost in the search for five men who have been lost at sea since Sunday, said the father of Stephen Cole Nickerson.

“We are angry,” said Stephen Nickerson.  “Very angry.”

The search for the young fishermen who were fishing halibut off of Sable Island near an area called The Gully got into trouble Sunday night at around 11 p.m. when their emergency locator beacon went off.

Hours later, the wind was gusting to 120 kilometres an hour with waves reaching 10 metres when the US Coast Guard spotted the life raft belonging to the Miss Ally.

Wind forced the Coast Guard aircraft to retreat and the raft has never been seen since.

The search continued into Tuesday but wicked weather continued to provide poor search conditions for the Joint Search and Rescue teams.

By 6 p.m. Tuesday evening the rescue efforts were handed over to the RCMP as a missing persons case.

“They called off the search too soon,” said Nickerson.  “Two days was not enough…and then they call it off on a fine day.”

The search and rescue team found the location of the overturned hull by Monday morning but said that it would be extremely dangerous to send divers to check if there was anyone onboard.

“We were not asking to risk anyone’s life,” said Nickerson. “Why didn’t they send down a camera to see?  Why didn’t they make some attempt at all?”

He said that there was a very strong possibility that the boys were in the boat when it flipped over.

“I’m a fisherman and at some point there is a time when you know it is time to put on your survival suit,” he said. 

Nickerson said there was no way of knowing if one or all five of the fishermen put on their suits when things started to get rough.

He doesn’t know if one or all five were able to reach an air bubble in the overturned vessel or whether one or all five of the boys were alive during the search and rescue attempts.

“They could have been alive,” he said.

It was a devastating blow to the families when the search was called off.

“We were all pushing for 12 more hours,” said Nickerson.  “Just 12 more hours that’s not much.”

But the decision of the Joint Search and Rescue Centre was firm.

The families were asked to go to Halifax so that officials could explain their reasons for stopping their efforts.

“We didn’t care what their reasons for stopping were,” he said.  “We just wanted them to find our boys.”

As time went on and the chances of the men being found alive were crushed, the families turned their hopes on finding out what happened to their sons and bringing their bodies home to rest.

But it took until Thursday night, two days after the search was called off, for the RCMP to get the approval it needed to receive the aid of the Navy and Air Force.

By this time fishermen from the community and surrounding area had hired their own team of divers and were powering the 14 hours it took to get to where the Miss Ally was last seen.

At almost the same time, the RCMP got the green light to proceed.

All searchers found on Thursday were pieces of debris from the vessel.

“We don’t understand how they could lose sight of the boat,” said Nickerson.  “They let the boat slip away.”

“Yes we are mad. We are very mad,” he said.  “I used to be proud to be a Canadian but now our boys are out there and I am not proud anymore.”