By Michael MacDonald
The Canadian Press — Halifax
The search for five Nova Scotia fishermen whose boat capsized in heavy seas late Sunday has been expanded eastward to account for prevailing currents.
Two coast guard vessels and three aircraft have already covered more than 18,000 square kilometres off Nova Scotia’s southwest coast, said navy spokesman Lt. Peter Ryan.
The search has yielded few clues since the crew aboard a U.S. Coast Guard jet reported seeing a life-raft in the dark early Monday.
Ryan said searchers are still picking up a weak signal from an emergency locator beacon that is believed to be floating near the overturned vessel. But he couldn’t explain why neither the boat nor the beacon has been found.
He said the likelihood that the men have survived is dropping by the hour and even if they were wearing immersion suits, their chances of surviving more than 24 hours in the water were slim.
“That 24 hours is what we use as a survivability rate, as a general rule of thumb,” Ryan said in an interview.
“Of course, we’re passed that now, but we’re still searching. ... We’re still hoping we can locate the crew and vessel. (But) the sea state and the weather are less than optimal.”
Eddie Nickerson, warden of the Municipality of Barrington, said friends and neighbours of the missing men are clinging to hope that the crew will be found alive in the life-raft.
“I really think people around here have seen these kind of events take place before and there has been survivors,” he said in an interview.
“We all know the sea is ferocious and unforgiving, but as long as there’s something to hang on to, there’s always hope. ... We do realize that as time passes there’s a chance you may not get the news that you want to receive.”
Nickerson said the community of Woods Harbour is rallying around the families of the five men. He said a local Baptist church was packed through the night for a prayer vigil.
The 13-metre boat, named Miss Ally, is believed to have capsized about 120 kilometres southeast of Liverpool shortly after 11 p.m. on Sunday.
Environment Canada says the ocean temperature at the time was hovering between 2 C and 4 C.
As well, an offshore buoy recorded wind speeds at 92 kilometres per hour, and a weather station on Cape Sable Island registered southwest gusts at 124 kilometres per hour. The buoy on the West Scotian Slope also recorded peak waves heights at eight metres late Sunday.
By Tuesday morning, wave heights had dropped to about six metres but the wind remained strong under clear skies.
A military Cormorant rescue helicopter, based in Greenwood, N.S., was joined Tuesday by a C-130 cargo plane from the same base. As well, a small plane chartered by the Fisheries Department had also been dispatched to the area.
Two coast guard vessels — the light icebreakers Earl Grey and Sir William Alexander — have been in the area since early Monday.
Melodie Crowell, the aunt of the boat’s captain, Katlin Nickerson, said a call from search officials came at 4 a.m. Tuesday, but there was little to report.
“The planes are still looking,” she said. “We’ve been up all night.”