Barge cancellation strands plane passengers

  • Jan. 6, 2010 6:00 p.m.

Airplane passengers who live on Graham Island were forced to find any way home possible – by boat or helicopter – when the tug and barge stopped running on New Year’s Eve. According to BC Ferries and Wainwright Marine, the barge service between Skidegate Landing and Alliford Bay was unable to make nine trips between 11:30 am and 5 pm on Dec. 31 due to high winds. So passengers were forced to find other ways to and from the Sandspit airport. Heron Wier of Moresby Explorers in Sandspit said he got a call from Skidegate around 1:20 pm saying a bunch of people needed a ride. He got over to the dock at Skidegate Landing and picked up 12 people, arriving at the marina in Sandspit at 2:30 pm. Moresby Explorers had a van waiting to drive people the rest of the way to the terminal. Mr. Wier said he decided to take people to the marina because he didn’t think passengers would be able to negotiate the ladder from the government wharf near the airport with their luggage. They then took 25 people who had just landed in Sandspit back to Skidegate Landing in three trips. The weather wasn’t too cold that day, he said, although it started to rain on the way back. He had long raincoats and life jackets for everyone. He didn’t think the weather was that rough either, but said he couldn’t comment on the decision made by the barge crew not to go. At least one person called the VIH helicopter too. Jerry White at VIH said a member of the public wanted to get his family over and arranged for the helicopter to pick them up at the Queen Charlotte helipad. The passenger then helped arrange four other flights for VIH. So in total the helicopter took 14 people and their luggage, in groups of three and four, to the airport. Mr. White said he talked with Air Canada in advance and let them know that passengers were coming, so they held the airplane. The return trip from the airport to Queen Charlotte took around 18 minutes, he said. Both Mr. White and Mr. Wier said they’d be happy to offer the service to airline passengers again. Mr. White said using the helicopter as a taxi service to the airport is a rare occurrence, “but it happens every now and again.” The cost to rent the helicopter per trip was around $400, which was divided among the passengers. “It was good for us the barge didn’t go,” he said. Mr. Wier said he charged passengers $25 for the trip and would be interested in offering the service again. He said they would need at least four passengers for the service. His crossing took around 20 minutes. One passenger with a baby was left in the airport during the fracas. Rachel Walker of Skidegate said she was trying to reach her mother for advice on what to do when the taxi took the other passengers to meet the zodiac. Her mother talked to some neighbours and they agreed to come over in their speed boat. “I was going to cry when they told me [the barge] wasn’t running,” she said. She was with her one and a half year old daughter and didn’t know anyone in Sandspit. She was also informed that the helicopter was $400 per person and that the Zodiac could only hold 11 people, although there were many more than that on the plane. Meanwhile Crystal Hillier at Wainwright Marine confirmed that the barge didn’t go because of high winds. She said the crew took the vessel out a couple of times and then had to turn back. Rumors that the barge didn’t go because a smaller tug was running it are unfounded, she said. The 40-foot Ingenika recently replaced the 43-foot Cadal on the run. “If the other tug was there it would have been down too,” she said.